I was wondering if my institute can use a figure which I made for a paper that has been published and crop it slightly and use it for press releases, etc., and instead of putting my name underneath the figure, they just put the institute's name.

Is it generally OK for them to do so, or should they give me credit?

  • 2
    Is the figure displayed in a context that describes your work?
    – mmh
    Jan 29, 2015 at 9:20
  • 3
    Do you have a work contract that says anything about that? Jan 29, 2015 at 9:43
  • 6
    @mynameis. Don't forget to state from where you are! In some countries, even if you signed-off the "copy-rights" to a work, you may have "moral-rights", such as being recognized as an author for a particular work.
    – AndrejaKo
    Jan 29, 2015 at 12:15
  • 2
    Regardless of the outcome, try to make sure you've got a permanent copy. There must be something quite nice about your work, even if it's only a pretty figure, and you can mention it if you're asked about communicating your research (beyond academia) in the future.
    – Chris H
    Jan 29, 2015 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


It depends. If (1) you once signed a contract that allows the university to do so, and (2) they contacted your publisher to obtain authorization for duplicating the figure, this may be legally allowed. That depends a bit on the laws in your country, which often differ in such matters.

It is certainly bad style, though. Also, PR offices that are careful enough the think of condition (2) will typically also contact you prior to publication of the press release - especially since cropping of the figure occurred. Also: Don't attribute malice to a deed when other possibilities exist. For example, they could have asked you advisor, who said that this would be fine (whether this is OK by the advisor to do so is a different question). Also, replacing your name by the university name could have been the work of an unexperienced intern in the office, etc.

Perhaps you can contact them and ask if this is a mistake. If you want to go the easy route, you could just mention that you are concerned that the figure violates the publisher's copyright and that cropping the image may not be covered by the agreement they gave. In the same mail/call, you could offer help with this potential problem by provide them with the needed source information for a proper "image citation" and helping with obtaining authorization by the publisher (if needed). You could also express genuine concerns that potential future collaborators on research questions related to the figure could use the information of you being the source to establish contact, which would potentially be beneficial for both your career and the future reputation of the university (by strengthening the research done at your institution).


This depends a lot on your arrangement with the university, as well as the context of the figure:

As DCTLib has already pointed out in their answer, first of all, the copyright legislation this is subject to has an influence on this, both with respect to you as well as any publishers of the paper. The legal side of this may also be related to whatever may be stated in any contracts you signed.

Now, concerning the question whether this is a "good way" to do things, I am used to arrangements where the unspoken agreement exists that any graphic produced by an employee of the university during their work is free for PR people and similar to use in presentations. Your mileage may vary, though I personally always perceived that as extremely convenient, as that means I had more time for my research and less time being bothered by requests to help with public relations of the university or the department. There are people being paid for doing that PR work, and I am glad about every second they save of my time.

Things get critical if there could be a considerable benefit by mentioning your name (that you expect to be absent if only the university or department name is mentioned).

  • Is the figure embedded in a press release that targets an academic audience, possibly specific to your topic? In that case, it could indeed be crucial to provide direct contact info. On the other hand, if the target audience is really that specific, I would wonder why you were not asked to write the text yourself in the first place, as PR departments are not normally specialized in accurately conveying very specific information on research.
    • And even if this is the case, consider the goal the university is trying to achieve - is it meant as a here-and-now info (so getting in touch with you is realistic), or is it supposed to say "This is what we did in field X in 2015.", which will then be provided as a proof for the permanent activity in your field when applying for a project grant long after you personally have left that university?
  • On the other hand, is the press release rather for a general audience? In such a case, figures are often not expected to be understood in depth, and are rather meant to convey a general sense of awe for the "pretty colourful things that are produced at the university". Note that this includes both public settings (newspaper articles for everyone) and professional settings (funding reports that will be checked by financial people who do not have the slightest idea about the actual content of the research and who just want to see that something is being done that justifies the expenses for staff and equipment).

Lastly, it can be considered a very similar situation to how other products are attributed. Have a look into the About boxes of Microsoft Visual Studio or Google Chrome - they only say that they're by Microsoft and Google, respectively. Likewise, product description websites such as this, this, or this merely provide the company name as the only form of attribution along with the screenshots. The single developers or designers are not listed, but if there is any reason to contact them, that contact can certainly be established by contacting the indicated organization.

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