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I'm editing a volume and I am responsible to obtain permissions for figures and photographs the authors wish to use in their respective chapters.

Now I have an author A who included several of his own photographs within his chapter which is great. My problem is that most of them have been previously published - in several different journals under several different authors (A is always among the authors). The author stated explicitly that these are his photographs but I'm not so sure. Do journals not normally claim figures along with the text and require even the authors to ask for permission to reuse "their" own content?

Does this apply only to figures or also to photographs? I checked the image caption in several of the publications and it never explicitly states "Photograph taken by A".

Do I need to obtain a permission from the copyright holder/owner of the journal? Should I just create a statement along the lines of 'Photo taken by A, previously published in A et al. 2010'? Should I make A sign a document stating that he always retained the copyright and can therefore license it for use in the present chapter? Should I contact our publisher instead of asking this on StackExchange? Probably, but you guys are much faster ;)

Context: The edited volume will be published in the U.S.A. by a STM-signatory.

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  • How many pictures are included? The STM Association has a list showing whether you need to ask for permission (notify) the publisher before reusing a figure. stm-assoc.org/copyright-legal-affairs/permissions/… Mar 4, 2017 at 2:02
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    The problem is that not all previous publications in which the images were published may be owned by STM-signatories.
    – Stockfisch
    Mar 4, 2017 at 13:16
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    In general, you have to options: 1) Ask the author to get the permissions from all previous publishers and/or make A sign a statement that he did or owns the copyright. 2) You ask the publishers for permissions. Usually, it's the job of the author. Mar 4, 2017 at 13:30

2 Answers 2

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The responsibility of certifying and negotiating copyright issues is typically the responsibility of specialized staff at a publishing organization, not that of the scientific editor of a work.

The responsibility of an editor here is just to make sure that the authors follow the process the publishing organization asks the editor to have them follow, which typically includes making copyright assertions or providing contact information to the people who will actually ask them to make copyright assertions.

Thus, if you have concerns, you can convey them to your contacts at the publisher to be sure that they are aware of these concerns and can sort them out. If you aren't the legal personnel responsible for sorting out the details, however, you shouldn't be trying to make any arrangements yourself: that is likely to create more problems than it solves.

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When authors publish their work in scientific journals the copyright is almost always transferred to the publisher as a condition of publishing. Therefore the author no longer has copyright on their images. To republish the same images in a new work, written permission from the copyright holder (journal publishing house) is required. In practice all of the journal publishing houses I am aware of have simple webforms to fill out for obtaining such permission. Sometimes you can get this for free in as little as a week, in other cases there could be a delay of a few months and a fee imposed. Depends on the Publisher!

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  • This is not true in all fields. See, for example, arXiv's copyright statement or the ACM's licensing options
    – jakebeal
    Jan 14, 2018 at 17:38
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    arXiv is not a publishing house or a scientific journal ... it is a manuscript depository with a commenting function. OP is asking about articles published in journals.
    – DBB
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:02
  • You are missing the point of that reference: arXiv is a dominant means of pre-publication in some areas of research. Accordingly, the copyright practices of journals in those fields have adapted in response, as indicated on the linked page: "Many journal agreements permit submission to arXiv using the non-exclusive license to distribute, which arXiv has used since 2004"
    – jakebeal
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:09
  • Yes many journals permit the word file to be deposited in arXiv or researchgate. However that does not mean the images in the journal can be republished in a 3rd party journal or book chapter publications without obtaining permission because those agreements are not in place.
    – DBB
    Jan 14, 2018 at 18:25

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