I am writing a paper, and would like to use some GPL-licensed material I found on the internet; for instance, an image. The GPL requires any work using GPL content to be GPL licensed itself. To my understanding, using GPL content would make it impossible to transfer the copyright to the publisher, and therefore unacceptable for most research papers. It is correct?

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    What do you mean by "use"? Just quote some of it? And what type of "stuff" are you talking about? Source code or (much less likely) something else?
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 26 '16 at 18:35
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    IANAL: The graphics does, to my knowledge, not inherit the copyright from the tools by which it is created. I believe there were attempts to impose tool copyright onto products generated with the tool and I am not sure what the current ruling is on that, but I am relatively confident this is not applying to GPL. Nov 26 '16 at 18:44
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    @CaptainEmacs What if the image itself is the GPL-licensed product? Image can have source code, too -- for instance, SVG images or those generated with Tikz. Nov 26 '16 at 20:50
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    The GPL is designed as a software license, not as a general-purpose license that can be applied to works such as photographs. You might want to contact the author and explain this to them, because they're probably confused or misinformed. If you're in the US, the fair use exception to copyright may make it legal for you to use such an image without having to comply with the license.
    – user1482
    Nov 28 '16 at 2:15
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    Notwithstanding some of the above comments, the GPL is merely a license for a copyrighted work. You, the author, still own the copyright and you can transfer the copyright to others. If obsessed the GPL forcibly applied to the whole document, the publisher would still own the copyright, it would just be obligated to continue to license it under the GPL or a compatible license. Nov 28 '16 at 6:06

This would be a problem if you used GPL-licensed piece of software and decided to release your derived program in a GPL-incompatible way.

Other than this, you should be fine. The point of GPL is that if you improve the source code, then your improvements (in case you want to make them public) must also be licensed under GPL.

Certainly GPL does not "infect" your publications - you can e.g. cite a piece of code released under GPL, without any problems. (And you can write your paper on a Linux machine, thus running GPL'ed OS :-))

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