I published paper 1 with a co-author A, who drew a very good illustrative figure in the introduction.

I want to submit paper 2 which addresses the same problem (but uses a completely different approach), so the introduction of the problem is pretty much the same. Do I need to ask A for permission to include the figure in paper 2?

  • 1
    My professor always asked for the journal's permission to reuse a figure, although he prepared the figure himself.
    – adipro
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 6:05
  • 2
    If it is going to be exactly the same picture, you should get journal's permission to republish the figure. If you are going to draw the figure yourself but essentially the same information as the previous one, you can just cite your previous journal.
    – Veera
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 6:22
  • @EnergyNumbers: I think my case is a little bit different since I'm the first author in the paper containing the fiugre.
    – sean
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 13:12
  • the question is a little bit different, but the questions are very close, and the answer is still the same, thus it is, in Stack Exchange terms, a duplicate.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 19:39
  • @EnergyNumbers: OK, as I already have an idea about how I should do, please feel free to delete the question.
    – sean
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 21:31

3 Answers 3


I was at the "receiving end" of such a case once. One of my collaborators has used a figure I have drawn for another paper that I was not a co-author of without asking me first. I did not consider this intellectual dishonesty (the figure was neither particularly brilliant nor a lot of work), but I do admit that it stung a little bit to see my own work (however tiny this "work" was) being used without telling. If the collaborator had just dropped a brief email before, I would have certainly not minded.

Bottom line:

Do I need to ask A for permission to include the figure in paper 2?

Strictly speaking probably not, but you really should tell A.

  • 2
    Your question covers the academic honesty part, but legally there are no questions - every drawing is copyright protected from the moment of creation, and yes, you do need explicit permission in order to copy it.
    – Peteris
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 9:06

You need to first check the copyright information (you have probably signed) from the journal/publisher where the figure is published. This will determine where the copyright for the typeset article lies. The figure is art and as such should be covered by an intellectual property, which then clearly belongs to your colleague. This issue seems to be overlooked by many copyright notices. As you probably know many publishers allow authors to post submitted (unedited) manuscripts to be posted on web-sites and repositories, but not the final typeset version. This is because the journal really does not own the intellectual thoughts in a paper but the right to publish and distribute the final version.

To me this becomes quite confused and it is not clear if all publishers have considered the true ownership of figures. It would be useful to survey the copyrights to see how these issues are dealt with and if, for example, country specific rules apply.

Anyway, to answer your question: tell your colleague of your intention. It is good etiquette regardless of whether or not it is necessary. When it comes to copyright of a journal: better safe than sorry; get permission. You of course need to reference your other publication and any permission that is needed. You should add your colleague's name to the acknowledgement as the originator of the figure; again etiquette.


When you published the original article the publisher may have required the copyright on the text and all figures to be transfer to them or for them to be granted exclusive rights. Presumably based on this question, you believe that the publisher does not have exclusive rights.

In the sciences figures are often not that valuable, but in the arts, figures can be very valuable. If someone takes a valuable photograph and grants you permission to publish that photo in a single article, then you clearly do not have the right to reproduce that photo in other articles. It is not uncommon for the artist who took the photo to be a coauthor on papers involving their photos. This doesn't change the "ownership" of the photo. The person who produces a photo/figure the figure is generally the copyright holder unless they sign the rights away.

You must ask the copyright holder for permission to use the figure again. The copyright holder is likely either the person who created the figure or the publisher of the original article.

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