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I found a 2016 presentation by an author in my niche field and want to get permission to reuse and modify a few of his figures for my master's thesis. But, the presentation doesn't has any copyright notice.

I can't find a way to contact him. I tried:

  • Contact information on any support or paper he participated in; there is nothing.
  • The website of his academia doesn't allow contact from un-authenticated users.
  • I can't find him through the contact list in the email system of my academia.
  • His LinkedIn account has a lock to not send messages to him.

He is still in academia, participates in juries of theses, and advises students. I am running out of options. Do I need to forget about using his figures?

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    You could perhaps try contacting one of the people he works with(e.g. co-authors, grad students) , and ask them how to contact this person
    – whoisit
    Aug 3, 2023 at 16:13
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    @whoisit I contacted a co-author and he gave me the current email address of him, thanks.
    – molik
    Aug 4, 2023 at 12:33
  • What will you do if you manage to contact him and he denies the permission? Save time, produce your own figures. Moreover, you mentioned you want to modify his figures. It is better to prepare your own in the form you desire.
    – yarchik
    Aug 5, 2023 at 8:51
  • This clearly looks like fair use, no different than quoting a paragraph or whatever. Particularly because the use is academic in nature and there's no profit involved but even if there were you see famous content creators on YouTube or wherever use these sorts of things in there videos with only attribution.
    – eps
    Aug 5, 2023 at 15:32

3 Answers 3

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Yes, you need to avoid copyright infringement and you need positive permission from the copyright holder to go beyond "fair use" however it is defined (which varies).

You can't make assumptions. Even if the author has died, the copyright is still held by someone and you need to contact the holder. Assume that their refusal to reply is denial of permission.

You can, of course, rely on fair use (where available) for some things.

Active academics and often even those retired can be contacted indirectly through their departments. They can pass on a message with information about your request and how to contact you.

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You don't specifically mention email (what is "my/his academia?"), but email is the default method for contacting academics whom you personally don't know. It is common to get requests out of the blue from prospective students, people who have read your work and have questions, journal editors who want you to review something, etc.

If he is a faculty member somewhere, then he very likely has a public-facing email address listed on his website (if he has one) or his department's website. In most cases, some Googling will turn it up quickly.

I'd recommend emailing him your question: keep it brief, polite, and to the point. In my opinion etiquette doesn't oblige him to respond, but he very well might.

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  • I used "my/his academia" in the sense of different universities. My mail domain end with universityA and his with academiaB.
    – molik
    Aug 4, 2023 at 8:42
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    @molik I'm afraid that I still don't quite understand. If his email is configured so as to reject email from any unauthenticated user, then that would be very unusual in my experience. At this point, I think my advice is to ask a trusted mentor for advice in person, so you can discuss in more detail what you've tried and resolve any potential misunderstandings. Good luck.
    – academic
    Aug 4, 2023 at 9:23
  • department websites are my go to for this sort of thing - it's almost certain that academics will have some form of contact address listed there
    – lupe
    Aug 4, 2023 at 15:12
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If, for some strange and inexplicable reason, you cannot find an email address by which to contact him, there's always the old-fashioned approach: snail-mail.

Write a hard-copy letter to the person, and mail it using your local postal service. You'll need a physical postal address to do so, but it need not be an address specific to him. You should be able to send a letter "in care of" the department or the university in general, and be reasonably confident they'll redirect the letter to his personal mailbox. Though keep in mind a physical letter can be ignored just as easily as a email can.

That said, I find it highly unlikely that you'll be unable to find a publicly accessible email address for an academic in this day and age. If there's nothing posted on the university website or in previous articles by this person, you might be able to email the general contact point for the department or university and politely ask for the author's email address.

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