The following situation occurred:

  • I was asked to modify a figure (originally published in a paper) to be used in a non-further-determined publication by my professor.
  • I did substantially modify the figure: I redrew the figure from scratch in a vector program, added colours and decoration and made it generally more attractive.
  • Now, half a year later this same figure or graphic appears in a book and just holds the small remark © Name of professor. Neither my name nor a reference to the original figure is given.
  • I checked the general acknowledgements of the book and there is no mention of my name.

My question is: How to proceed from here? Naturally I don't want to deteriorate the relationship with my employer but I need to raise this issue, especially so that it does not happen again in the future (my professor asks me on a regular basis to draw graphics for him). Should I insist that my name should somehow be included (second edition of the book, online errata etc.)? What would the copyright implications be for a) not mentioning the creator of the graphic (me) and b) not referencing the original work?

Some context: I work as a research assistant and I am not employed primarily to do these drawings though - when requested - I usually do them in my work time. The book in which the figure appeared is the output of a research institution (though clearly directed at the general public) and I am not sure if the book is to be sold, i.e. if it could be considered commercial use.

Edit: I may not have explained myself well. In my opinion the resulting image is not a mere modification of a figure but a piece of work that requires creativity and year-long practices with a graphics program.

  • 7
    Is this really worth an altercation? Rather, use it as an experience to modulate your further interaction with the prof when it comes to serious issues such as completely original pictures/data/articles. I suggest don't bring this case up, just use it as a guiding light for the future. Importantly, in this particular case, the original picture wasn't yours, either, this modification was - in a way - a favour you did to your boss (something I did a lot, without expecting compensation). If you think you deserve more credit, negotiate conditions in advance. Dec 9, 2016 at 14:32
  • An altercation no and it is not what I seek. But I still want to make sure that he sees his mistake. As I now edited into the question, this is not a slight modification of an existing figure but an original idea based on an existing figure. I am the only one in his lab that can create images of this quality for him and he sought me out especially for that, so I thought that might be worth mentioning my name at least.
    – Stockfisch
    Dec 9, 2016 at 22:00
  • @Stockfisch I think the feedback you are getting here, and that I agree with, is that work on this type of figure is not credited based on effort given. The credit is instead given to the ideas which are not originally yours, and to the authors of a publication if the figure is included in the publication. That doesn't mean your work was not appreciated or credited - it is common practice to include an "acknowledgements" section at the beginning or end of a talk or paper, you could ask for credit there, but in an already published book it's not significant enough for a correction.
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 9, 2016 at 22:25
  • 1
    @Stockfisch Fair enough. My advice sums up as: in future, set the conditions in advance. This saves a lot of headache, in my experience. It's much better than being shy about stating conditions or saying "no" and later getting angry, and possibly building up seething antagonism. Dec 9, 2016 at 23:25
  • I may be missing something, but it seems that since you're employed as a research assistant there might be something about this in your contract.
    – Ramrod
    Dec 25, 2016 at 4:54

3 Answers 3


How to proceed from here?

You don't do anything. You did something small your supervisor asked for, and he used the figure that you made for him.

It's very unusual for figures to be labeled with the name of the actual person that made it, and it would be a lot to expect this without asking / demanding this beforehand. Take the closest textbook and you'll find that indeed, a lot of figures will be copied from publications and references are included. However, there will also be custom-made figures that don't have any note. And you can be quite sure these figures are not drawn by the authors themselves, but by their students or employees.

There would probably also be no copyright implication, as this sounds like you just re-created some schematic figure and you just copied the idea, not the work itself.

  • 1
    I don't agree as I don't see it as "something small". I'd like to compare it with a photograph where credit to the photographer is also necessary.
    – Stockfisch
    Dec 9, 2016 at 22:04
  • 2
    Credit is not necessary. It's nice, perhaps, but not necessary, and definately not legally required. This would just be work for hire and your employer would hold the copyright.
    – VonBeche
    Dec 9, 2016 at 22:32
  • 2
    If the copyright is owned by the company (e.g. an employee of a company takes the photograph as a part of their requested duties, so work for hire), there's no requirement to credit the photographer.
    – Peteris
    Dec 10, 2016 at 11:07
  • 2
    And you can be quite sure these figures are not drawn by the authors themselves — Excuse me? [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Dec 10, 2016 at 13:56
  • @Stockfisch Photograph is credited if licencing requires it - generallly not when a payed employee makes it in his/her working hours as part of job.
    – Greg
    Dec 10, 2016 at 15:59

Just my two cents: (which, I have a lot of, as I open a lot of answers this way it seems)

Take this as gained experience, and next time you are asked to rework graphics to a large extent, ask about how the rework will be credited beforehand. Now to be fair, I have not seen many instances where graphs, etc have actually had reference to who made the graph. This may be due to the idea that the graph/image is not as important as the data it conveys.

I would like to ask one thing. Is there any line in the acknowledgements along the lines of "thanks to all who have helped me make this book possible?" If so, you would be counted among that number. If not, just chock this up to one of two things: The author is too full of him/herself to recognize the work of others in a publication he/she put out, or two the author simply forgot to include everyone who helped out due to a simple slip of the mind.

I would HOPE it would be the latter, but I know enough published professors who would fall into the former category. And the sad part of it all, is they are from the community college level.


To my mind, the most important element of what you have written is this:

not referencing the original work

Since the figure was originally published in another work, it is absolutely required that the original work be cited; to do otherwise is (self)plagiarism. That part of the issue is clear, if it is a scientific publication. If it is a "pop science" publication that doesn't have any references at all, though, it falls into a general grey area of "crappy non-professional publication" for which no better can be expected and which you probably don't want to be associated with in any case.

In either case, an acknowledgement of your work would be appropriate. Failing to acknowledge you is probably not formally actionable, but is a clear indicator of a potential problem. It's also possible that it's not intentional but simply an editing failure---screwing up one citation in a book would not be at all unusual.

So, how should you proceed? I would recommend approaching your professor from the point of view that this is a mistake, and seeing how they respond. Something like:

"I was looking through the book, and it looks like the reference for this image was accidentally omitted. What do you think we should do about it?"

If your professor is well-intentioned and this is a mistake, they should have suggestions for how to fix it (e.g., errata). If your professor just blows it off, however, then you know you're dealing with somebody with poor scientific publishing ethics, and should plan to start extracting yourself from that environment. If it bugs you, you can contact the publisher later, but wait until you are secure in a place where your professor no longer has power over you.

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