I have created several figures that are a part of presentation slides. As usual for presentation slides, those were not published in any official proceedings (just the underlying paper, that didn't contain the same figures, was), and no copyright for the presentation slides or any parts thereof was transferred to any other party.

I have made the presentation slides available on my website and I would like to keep it that way. More generally spoken, I would like to continue being able to provide these slides whereever I wish, including allowing other people to redistribute them on their websites.

Now, I would like to re-use some of the figures from the slides in an upcoming paper, which will be published by Springer. Consequently, I will have to transfer copyright for the paper to Springer.

How do I safely re-use my graphics?

  • As suggested by DCTLib's answer, publisher may wish that I cite the paper in all works that share a graphic with the paper. However, this does not seem feasible in cases where the final form of the presentation slides was created and distributed before the paper was even planned.
  • Do I have to transfer copyright of these graphics, as they form a part of my paper, which means I am forced to remove the presentation slides, which would - after the transfer - constitute a possible copyright infringement?
  • Do I have to somehow explicitly mark the respective graphics (in the paper and/or elsewhere - is there another place where I need to indicate that toward Springer?) as cited with permission (albeit I granted that permission myself) rather than original works first published in the paper?
    • Bonus sub-question: In this latter case, it seems that regularly publishing all created graphics on my website and then marking all graphics that I use in papers as cited from that website would save me and others lots of possible trouble when it comes to the future re-use of graphics that were already shown in papers whose copyright has been transferred to a publisher. It just cannot be so easy, as otherwise, everyone would be doing it, so there must be some catch in this plan (?)

Maybe more generally, the question could be put as: How can I re-use a graphic in a publication, if I have to transfer the copyright for the publication to a publisher, without changing the previously valid copyright/licensing status of the graphic?

I feel this must be related to the case when I want to use images that are already subject to a different license, e.g. a CC-SA license, and thus I cannot grant any publisher the exclusive right to publish these images, as that would conflict with the way the images are already in use and circulating.

Related Work

I have found various related questions, but they either deal with special permissions for re-use in theses, or with re-using images already published in copyright-transferred papers. Moreover, copyright laws in my country do not have a concept of fair use, so questions related to fair use are not applicable to the described scenario, either.


I am asking this question in response to an urgent university-wide e-mail sent by university administration that asked us to take great care when it comes to copyright issues with respect to what we publish on university websites, or in the name of the university. Apparently, there has been a recent copyright-based legal issue for the university based on what some employees put on their websites, which did not end well for the university. While I do not know any specifics other than that the university had to deal with the receipt of one or more Abmahnungen, the tone of the e-mail made it clear that "acting in a way that will probably not create any problems" is not good enough.

EDIT: To be clear, I am not asking how to re-use a graphic that has already been published by one of the usual publishers and that is thus subject to the copyright restrictions of that publisher. I am asking about the opposite direction; how to have one of the usual publishers re-use a graphic I have already distributed before under less restrictive terms than what the publisher would allow, without the publisher assuming copyright ownership of the graphic.

  • Moreover, copyright laws in my country do not have a concept of fair use - what country would that be, if you don't mind sharing?
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:05
  • @ff524: Germany. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:07
  • 2
    @O.R.Mapper It should be added that Germany has a special law that explicitly allows quotes of moderate size in scientific works. However, I remember that there was a case where it was argued that figures are works on their own and thus replicating a figure does not constitute a quotation.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:19
  • 1
    If you want to go that way you could in the future put the images under an open license before submitting the paper and informing the publisher of that. There may be negative consequences of course.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


Did you have a look at the Springer copyright agreement?

For example, the one for the "Lecture Notes in Computer Science" series by Springer says:

Author also retains the right to use, without having to pay a fee and without having to inform, the publisher, parts of the Contribution (eg. illustrations) for including in future work, and to [....], provided that the original Springer Contribution is properly cited.

So updating your old slide set to include a citation should do the trick. It may be debatable whether this makes the slide set "future work", although it does change when addition the quotation.

However, I think that you overthink the issue. Springer journals allow to publish extended versions of already published papers, even if the previous version was not published by Springer. If no usage of previously published material at all would be allowed due the to copyright transfer that you mention, there couldn't be any extended versions unless all figures are drawn from scratch.

  • 3
    That's a part of the issue - the fact that Springer considers the paper whose copyright was transferred as the "original [source]", despite the fact that it was written and made accessible after the presentation slides, is a problem in my opinion: The presentation slides were distributed before writing the Springer paper had even started, so obviously, they do not cite the Springer paper. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:09
  • 1
    "unless all figures are drawn from scratch" - as a matter of fact, that is exactly what a lawyer I once talked to about these issue suggested to do when it comes to re-using graphics that were already included in works whose copyright had been transferred to a publisher. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:27
  • It's worth noting that most major STM publishers have a general agreement to reuse each others illustrations etc in papers - see stm-assoc.org/copyright-legal-affairs/permissions/… I ran through these for a colleague recently and while it was a bit silly for him to have to ask to reuse his own work, it was a pretty smooth & painless process to get approval. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 8:55

Perhaps re-drawing the figures, slightly modifying the style and the form, can help avoiding these copyright issues ? That's what we do, in my field and country (geography/maps, France).

  • That can work (+1), although to me, it feels a bit like a "worst of both worlds" approach: (a) The copyright claim on the figure as the "intellectual product" remains as it is, but is basically circumvented by what could be called a technicality, (b) readers have more effort because they may have to decode (understand) essentially the same graphic twice, and (c) the effort that goes into the creation of the papers that feature the variants of the figure is maximized for all involved. Lastly, "slightly modifying the style and the form" may not be an option when the point of the figure is ... Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 17:39
  • ... to show a particular visual notation with a particular style and form. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 17:40

Publish the figures first under a Creative Commons license on Figshare or a similar site. Licensing them in advance preempts the publisher agreement. If you license them CC, you won't be required to reference.

I know at least one person who does this regularly; she discusses it on slide 4 of this presentation.

  • 1
    I hope it's that easy, but IMHO it does beg the question: Why isn't everyone routinely doing that already? Seeing the questions about reusing published figures on this site, or just thinking of the possible future hassle of obtaining a permission (which is cumbersome even with some "regular scientific publishers") and/or proving the right of redistribution to the new publisher, I find it surprising publishing figures first to keep them available for future reuse is not a somewhat widespread practice. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:46

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