I submitted a paper to a journal and just found out that I was accepted. This is my first time publishing and I wrote the paper for a class assignment. I submitted all of my citations and figures but now I am worried that I will run into copyright issues. I scanned several of my figures out of books, which the journal team knows, and I am nervous. What can I do to avoid issues? IS this something that I should contact the book's publisher over?


2 Answers 2


An image copied from a book is almost certainly under copyright unless the copyright has expired. The journal should know this and should have taken some action on your behalf to obtain permission to republish it. Any reputable journal would find a way to deal with this, either directly through the other publisher (assuming it isn't themself) or through you obtaining permission. Images are very seldom fair use for copying since they carry so much information (A picture is worth a thousand words).

Some materials might have a permissive license for reuse, such as a CC-BY license, but that would be clearly stated in the source. They might (probably will) require a citation in any case. Some images are themselves already public domain if the original is old.

You should ask the journal what provisions have been made, if any. If none, then you should withdraw the paper until you make a suitable correction. One correction might be to provide alternate images. Another might be to get permission from the original publisher.

But, publishing it as it is now will do some damage to your reputation.

Note, however, that copyright law is almost everywhere a civil matter. It might result in a lawsuit by the copyright holder against the infringer. Such a suit is more likely to be against the publisher than yourself, though you might be named. Suits are expensive, so those suing go where the money is. It is nevertheless, a stain on your reputation if it is published. Put a hold on publishing until you work out the details. If you haven't yet signed over your copyright you are perfectly able to stop publication with just a notice. If you have already signed it over, then it is a deeper problem.

Edited to add: These images seem to be art. As such, the book you copied from might have, itself, copied from public domain sources, in which case they aren't actually copyrighted by the publisher of the book. You can probably find public domain sources for most art (especially anything fairly old) with a web search. There are millions of images online.

  • Thank you for your advice! The journal is one through UC Berkeley's Art History department and they just started. I have sent off questions about this to them but while I wait for a response I searched for public domain versions of some of my images. Now out of my 10 figures only half are now an issue (and three of those I can cut out if need be).
    – Babypear
    Commented Mar 19 at 18:58
  • You might find public domain images for most art, actually, unless they were created in the digital age. A web search for "public domain art images" will turn up a lot of possibilities. In fact, the images you copied might have been copied from public domain sources.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 19 at 19:08
  • The only images I am having trouble finding public domain versions for are from the Theoi Project. Others are from a museum catalog and have a hefty licensing fee should I want to use them. I am reworking my writing so as to omit the images to avoid paying the fees (I am still in university and don't have the funds)
    – Babypear
    Commented Mar 19 at 19:36

I'm an art historian. Obtaining image permissions for articles is one of the bugbears of the profession. Not only will you need to consider who took the photograph of an artwork, but you also need to consider whether you need to request permission from the artist or the artist's estate prior to publication. In some cases, you may need to request permission from the rights agent, like the Artists Rights Society, which permits licensing of artwork.

The College Art Association publishes a helpful guide on fair-use guidelines for images. It's available here: https://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf

I would also suggest taking a look at articles published in one of the College Art Association's journals to get a sense of what types of credit lines are necessary for image captions.

Here are a few screenshots of image captions from the art historian Melissa Ragain's 2021 book Domesticating the Invisible: Form and Environmental Anxiety in Postwar America to give you a sense of which organizations you will need to credit. The first image is from page 111 and the second is from page 115.

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