I am in the process of writing a paper on the results I have obtained recently. One of the steps where I have innovated is extracted from a paper published some years ago.

My idea for the paper was to compare the original method with my modifications and thus present the different results.

Is it generally accepted practice to simply copy the "results" image from the original paper (that I am extensively citing and discussing in mine)? Or should I somehow recreate it? (this last option is presenting some difficulties, as some implementation details* are not explicitely stated in the original paper and thus I cannot be 100% sure that my reproduction would be actually representative of what the authors originally did)

*: yes, we are speaking (also) about code

  • There are no rules for scientific writing that prevent you from copying the image (in fact, as a reader I would appreciate it), but you need to work out the possible copyright issues (which can be difficult even if you consult a lawyer) or get permission (which often is also not easy). That's why it's not common.
    – user9482
    Mar 31, 2016 at 7:59
  • 1
    Read from here as an example.
    – Nikey Mike
    May 13, 2016 at 11:47

1 Answer 1


You have two different questions: one in your title, regarding coping an image, and another regarding the results.

Copying a figure:

It depends on the license of the paper. If it is appropriately licensed (as with a Creative Commons Attribution license), you generally can, as long as you indicate it. If it is copyrighted, you are in the grey area of possible fair use. In these cases, the safest option is to contact the copyright holders (usually the publisher) and ask for permission.

Another option is to contact the authors and ask them for the raw data itself, so you can plot it yourself (so you keep a constant style across the paper), or ask them to regenerate it for you.

Using results:

The results are not copyrightable, so you can freely use them. If Smith et al, 2007 report an accuracy of 91%, and you get a 97%, you can freely put the numbers next to each other.

  • maybe is not clear from my question, but the image in question contains the results (stated otherwise, it is a graphical representation of the results)
    – Federico
    Mar 31, 2016 at 7:58
  • 2
    There are many countries which don't have a "fair use" concept. I'm not sure if an international publisher would accept fair use.
    – user9482
    Mar 31, 2016 at 8:03
  • @Roland hence the grey area.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 31, 2016 at 9:32
  • 1
    @ScottSeidman it can be argued that that would be a small quote or a criticism, so falling within fair use. But IANAL, and the publisher will likely want a safer standard.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 31, 2016 at 14:54
  • 1
    @Diaa it will be somewhere pretty visible. But unless you see otherwise, you have to assume is copyrighted. You'd have to ask the journal you are going to publish.
    – Davidmh
    Aug 8, 2018 at 14:45

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