There is a figure that is unbelievably clear and efficient in getting my point across. More specifically, I'm doing a presentation about modeling a certain real-world object to math students who are not familiar with the problem, and the figure beats any sort of clumsy explanation I can give. Nor is there any chance of me 're-imagining' the figure, or drawing from another example.

Now, asking for the rights to reproduce the figure will cost around 70euros (I study in Europe, the journal is Nature Computational Science). Are there any benefits given to students to get around this issue? Also, the presentation is only to ~40 students in my university, and the slides won't be public, so perhaps this may be another way out?

I've seen this, does my use case fall under fair use?

Edit: Added the selections I took in Nature's RightsLink.enter image description here

  • 3
    We can't really answer legal questions about whether a particular use constitutes "fair use", but you can find lots of resources on it. Importantly, though, "fair use" is a specific legal doctrine so it's entirely dependent on jurisdiction. I can say that it is common practice in lectures and academic talks to present figures created by others, with clear citation and credit for the original author and where it is published, without paying any sort of fees.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 2, 2023 at 15:52
  • I think "fair use" is more of a US concept, actually. But what do you mean by "reproduce"? Publishing something (youtube, available printed notes, ...) is different (under fair use) than sharing it closely, especially in an educational setting.
    – Buffy
    Apr 2, 2023 at 16:08
  • @Buffy plainly: I would like to screenshot the figure and present it to the other students. Apr 2, 2023 at 16:13
  • Are you a student? Are you intending something like a powerpoint presentation?
    – Buffy
    Apr 2, 2023 at 16:22
  • 1
    You might ask at your library. The librarians are often familiar with these issues and have to address it regularly. Apr 3, 2023 at 13:44

4 Answers 4


Yes, there is a way to do it without paying the fee. Just go ahead and include it in your presentation.

This is not a violation of a copyright law as it is fair use. The US law, for example, explicitly allows the use for teaching, and literally all the "factors to be considered" listed in the law to determine fair use work in you favor: you use it for non-profit, only a small portion of an article, it does no damage to commercial value etc.

I'll be as bold as to say that the king is naked: even if the publisher had a valid claim that you have committed a copyright infringement, it would be of no practical consequences. First, they would never learn about your presentation. Second, if they do, they wouldn't sue. What would they ask the court to do? Make the audience unsee your presentation? Make you pay 70 EUR?

  • 4
    "Fair use" is part of US copyright law, so it only applies in the US. OP is not in the US. Certainly other countries have similar ideas in their copyright laws.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 3, 2023 at 18:18
  • 1
    @BryanKrause, fair enough, but I frankly feel that it is those who are making the preposterious claim that it is not a straightforward issue should corroborate their claim with specific court cases.
    – Kostya_I
    Apr 3, 2023 at 18:36

You should contact the publisher (not the author) and ask permission, clearly describing your situation. I can’t believe there’s a fee for just asking.

For what you describe (an internal event), I would normally not even bother and use the figure, but it’s a good exercise to just go through the process of asking.

I can’t imagine the publisher will require you pay the fee; at worse you may be required to acknowledge the source of the figure, which is something you should do anyways.

I don’t have experience with the reuse of figures in your field, but graduate students of mine often reuse figures in their thesis and have never had to pay, although they have gone through the process of formally getting permission (sometimes electronically) and properly thanking the publisher for allowing the re-use of images.


The answers so far mention "fair dealing" (law in UK and several commonwealth countries) and "fair use" (US law). Especially the latter is a very open-ended doctrine for reusing copyrighted works. However, EU copyright law (to the extent that copyright law has been harmonized between the countries in the union) tends to work in a different fashion. The Copyright and Information Society Directive includes a list of explicit limitations and exceptions to copyright that member countries are permitted to implement. Among other things, member countries may allow educational uses. But the details vary from country to country. The European Union Intellectual Property Office has a useful FAQ on copyright for teachers, which provides answers for the different EU states to questions like the following:

  1. Under what conditions can teachers or students use copyright material (such as images, articles, photos) from the internet for educational purposes, such as in an assignment, presentation or in a digital learning environment?

If you are in an EU country, chances are you'll find there is some kind of educational exception to copyright, and an outline of it in that FAQ or at least references to applicable laws and industry agreements. If you are in a non-EU European country, you'll have to look to the appropriate national law.

  • This is is useful answer. When you write "the detail vary from country to country", does that mean that there are countries where what OP wants to do is not OK? If so, could you give an example?
    – Kostya_I
    Apr 4, 2023 at 7:31
  • @Kostya_I It might be the case that there is some country without any educational exception. I'm not too interested in going through answers from 27 countries to find out (and answers from Portugal are incomplete). What I primarily meant, however. is that implementation of the exception varies. In some countries (e.g. Ireland, Sweden) it appears to only apply to institutions that have specific licensing or have signed some agreement. On the other hand, Poland appears to be quite permissive and Germany seems to allow the use of images and up to 15% of works in scientific journals.
    – Anyon
    Apr 4, 2023 at 13:15
  • in Sweden, this is a non-issue, as per BCA guide: All universities and higher education institutions in Sweden have agreements with Bonus Copyright Access. Same in Finland.
    – Kostya_I
    Apr 4, 2023 at 17:10

I think you are free to do this, but it is a legal issue and IANAL. And the law varies.

In the US, "fair use" is defined in one way. In the UK "fair dealing" is similar, but not identical. Other places...???

One of the most important aspects of these exceptions to copyright law involve whether you affect the commercial value of what you copy. Another is the nature of the use. Publishing a figure in some paper needs some consideration, but very limited "sharing" in an educational environment is likely (not assuredly, likely) to be considered fair.

Another aspect is that copyright infringement is almost everywhere a civil matter. It requires a lawsuit to enforce. So the copyright holder has to know about the infringement and has to decide that a lawsuit is "worth it". If you were to republish he entire Bob Dylan songbook, they would take notice, certainly, and some are paranoid about smaller things, but only if it is worth the effort. In your case I can't see that as an issue.

But it would be best if you have proper access to the image to start with. Even finding it in a library is fine. Otherwise it has ethical implications that go beyond copyright.

And, cite the source when/if you present it.

  • 2
    IANAL either, but the "cite the source" bit may be legally important as well as a question of scholarly ethics - in the UK, all the "fair dealing" exceptions to copyright law are conditional on proper attribution. Apr 2, 2023 at 17:12

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