Suppose publication Smith (2016) had a study that investigated whether professors liked apples, and found that they did.

Now suppose that I wish to have my own study that investigated whether students also liked apples, and to what degree would this be compared to professors.

Would it be necessary for me to ask Smith for permission to show their numbers when I am making the statistical comparison between my data and Smith (2016) data?

If I reference Smith (2016) when presenting my work, do not claim the data on professors to be my own, and use the same inventory of questions (which Smith (2016) themselves used from another source), I would assume that this would not be considered plagiarism and I would not have to receive permission, but I wasn't entirely sure.

In other words, is it okay for me to show some other publication's data for data comparison reasons without prior permission if I properly reference/cite their work?

*This project, as it stands, only has intentions for conference presentations and not publication if that changes anything.

  • How did you get the data? If it has been made public the current answer applies. If it hasn't there are other considerations and you should ask for permission.
    – user9482
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 7:09
  • The data that I will be comparing to are all provided in the publication I am referencing. My own data is something I will be collecting myself. Would the data from a publication be considered public?
    – ssjjaca
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 7:15
  • 2
    If the data is provided in the publication (or as a supplement) it is published (that's why it is called a "publication") and you can use if freely but need to cite the source as the answer says.
    – user9482
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 7:17

3 Answers 3


Utilization of data sets (acquired from other academic resources) is fairly common; specially when you need to compare your analytical method with the other one's in view of performance, precision, etc. In such case, people often try to use a pre-assessed data set of their own or some other study. All you need to do is referencing the used data set, carefully.

Answer to question #11, here, says:

Data cannot be copyrighted, so you are free to use data to create any figure you like [or any analysis you need]. The source of the data must be properly acknowledged

  • Data [by itself] cannot be copyrighted; that's a good phrase to add to my favourite quotations note.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 17:13

As long as you're not reproducing their figures or tables, it is perfectly acceptable to use the data and properly cite it without permission. If you are "adapting" a figure or table, you may need to solicit permission (for the copyright holder, which is often the publisher), or follow the mandate for whatever open-access license the document was published under (depending on how close the new work is to the old work, and your publishers level of comfort).


Be aware: the legal answer may be different for just citing data from a table, as opposed to reproducing a figure or image, even though there is little ethical difference (in my opinion).

Figures, unfortunately, are often under copyright by the journal, and journals will have stated figure re-use policies. (Look for "request permissions" or something like this on the article's website.) Often this re-use will be free, but you will still need that permission.

Because of this copyright situation, I have had to request permission from a journal in order to include figures I created within a review article. This is silly, but necessary in many cases.

  • For my case specifically, I was more concerned with the empirical data. For instance, if 50% of professors liked apples, then could I simply get this 50% empirical value and compare it with my data on students which only shows 25% like apples if I properly cite where the data on professors came from?
    – ssjjaca
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 21:47
  • 1
    If it is something as simple as that, there should be no issue. Saying something like "Sci. et al. find that 50% of professors like apples [Ref]" is standard, and I have never heard of permission being required. Just be a bit more careful when reprinting whole tables or figures.
    – AJK
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 0:10
  • Sorry, I meant that I would get their table of data and compare it with my table of data (direct comparison would be possible due to the same inventory of questions being asked). So basically I would get their data from 15-20 questions and compare it with mine. Although this is more than simply referencing a portion of their data, it shouldn't make much difference, correct?
    – ssjjaca
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 0:17
  • Why is it silly? You transferred your rights to a publisher. When you sell a car, it's not yours to drive anymore. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 11:34

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