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Is an author (coauthor or corresponding author) of an already published paper in a journal (IOP and Elsevier) allowed to use figures of the (already-) published paper in their poster or oral presentation at a conference by clearly citing the source of figures once the figure appears? Indeed, the presentation is a review of what we have done in different papers.

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In general, this depends on what the authors agreed to in terms of the copyright transfer or publishing agreement. For example, IOP's Author rights and article sharing policy grants authors publishing in IOP subscription journals the right to

reuse their original figures, tables, and text extracts (up to 400 words) in future published works.

The more detailed version of the policy states that, for subscription articles for which the copyright form was submitted on or after 26 April 2016, authors have the right to (for non-commercial use)

(from paragraph 2)

  • make oral presentation of the Final Published Version (all or part) and include a summary and/or highlights of it in papers distributed at such presentations or in conference proceedings.
  1. In addition to the rights granted in paragraphs 2 and 4 above, IOP and/or its licensors also grant the Named Authors the right to reuse, without further permission, their original figures, tables, and text extracts of no more than 400 words, in future published works of which they are an author. When reusing content in this way, the Named Authors must display adequate citation information and IOP’s and/or its licensor’s copyright notice. This information is necessary in order to show where any reuse requests should be directed and to avoid any suggestion of self-plagiarism.

Posters are not explicitly mentioned, but presumably count as a published work as far as copyright is concerned.

Note that IOP also publishes some journals owned by other societies, for which other policies may apply.

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  • Thank you very much. In my case, I am sending only a few-line abstract to the conference (to apply for a poster/oral presentation), and then, in my poster/oral presentation, I cite the figures; is this assumed a future publication? Since the abstract which will be published on the conference website/proceedings does not contain any figures.
    – Martha97
    May 14, 2023 at 12:34
  • @Martha97 For an authoritative answer, you can of course email IOP and ask for clarification. My reading is that, if you copy some lines from the paper abstract for an abstract, it would fall under the cited part of paragraph 2, "include a summary and/or highlights... in proceedings". I guess that, in a very conservative reading, that clause might only apply to oral presentation. Of course, they don't own modified/new lines in the new abstract, there may be, e.g., fair use arguments, and, in practice, they're unlikely to be bothered by you promoting the paper.
    – Anyon
    May 14, 2023 at 13:13
  • I have already sent them an email on Friday, but not received an answer yet, and I am in a hurry to prepare my poster. But as I checked on Elsevier's author's right, they also mention that the reuse of material is fine. I will definitely NOT use the same line of my paper in the poster; it will be of course different.
    – Martha97
    May 14, 2023 at 13:41
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Yes, even from articles by strangers, and you don’t need no stinkin' permission

In all countries I am familiar with, citing work for the purpose of critical commentary (i.e. the typical use in a research paper) is allowed under exemptions to copyright. See, for instance:

Reproducing a figure, sound sample, video etc. is covered by such exceptions. It does not matter that you are the author of the work or not. It does not matter that the copyright holder agrees or disagrees with you doing it.

There are some conditions, but if you are following basic academic ethics, the rule of thumb is that you are never going to violate copyright. (The only exception is stapler theses, which often reproduce in extenso the content of published articles. In that case, you have to be careful about permissions - even if it’s your work, you transferred an exclusive publication right to the publisher.) Typical conditions are:

  • In some countries (e.g. France or Italy), you have to clearly identify the source of the cited work (else the copyright exemption does not apply). As an academic, you are doing that anyway, otherwise it would be (self-)plagiarism.
  • In some countries (e.g. UK or Italy), the work has to be of a non-commercial nature. Scientific papers are typically not produced aiming at commercial profit (if I ask JK Rowling to send me the PDF of Harry Potter, she will tell me to buy it at the bookshop; if I ask Jones to send me their latest Nature paper, they will gladly send it for no charge). Maybe for-profit publishers might have difficulties in Italy (where the law is strictest) but as a researcher you are in the clear.
  • In most countries, there is a proportionality requirement: do not reproduce more of the cited work than is necessary to understand the context. As an academic, you are doing that anyway, otherwise the review poster/presentation/article would be a rambling mess of useless copy-pastes.

Editors might not know this, though

Some reviewers, editors or publishers might refuse to republish figures and other excerpts without permission from the original publisher. If they believe that is a legal necessity, they are wrong (see above).

Of course, being wrong will not stop them from rejecting your article or otherwise doing unpleasant things. In that case, yes, you might play the "getting permission" game. That is no different than when reviewer 2 asks you to do some pointless change to the article - if it is not too much of a bother, go for it and do not argue. Whether they ask you to obtain permission from the authors, publisher, or from the king of Belgium, it’s the same thing - go ask and get it from the author, publisher, or king of Belgium.

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