Currently, I am writing for two conferences, independent from each other. One paper is a generic one, while the other one is more technical.

However, I would like to use some of figures I have drawn in both of them. Is this ethical or are there any issues doing that?

EDIT: The conference are about advances in IT, electronics engineering and the papers have not been published yet.

  • 1
    Could you specify the field? Different fields of academia treat conference abstracts in very different ways. Aug 28, 2017 at 10:32
  • @FedericoPoloni added the context.
    – www
    Aug 28, 2017 at 10:49

3 Answers 3


Conferences mean very different things in different fields.

In some fields (e.g. most of pure mathematics), they are essentially just a venue for presenting/publicising your work to other researchers. In such fields, conference abstracts are not treated like full publications; there is no strong expectation of originality. So you can re-use your figures freely between conference talks/abstracts, and re-use figures from journal publications in conference talks/abstracts.

The only thing to worry about, in this case, is that if you re-use material too often, then people who see it multiple times may get bored of it, and think you are being lazy and not producing much new research. But this is unlikely if you are just re-using one or two figures, provided your talks/abstracts contain substantive other fresh material.

In other fields (e.g. much of computer science), conferences are a publication venue in their own right, on a par with journals. In such fields, there is an expectation of originality; so you should re-use figures sparingly, and usually explicitly note when you do so. Essentially, in this case, treat it as you would re-using material between papers. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in e.g. a background section, but it won’t count towards the original content that a referee will be looking for. And the re-use should be noted explicitly and prominently — e.g. “The relationship between fuzzles and woozles is shown in Figure 3 (reprinted from Jones 2014).” — unless possibly the figure is clearly just a very simple and standard illustration of background material.

  • Thanks for the answer. Since two conference will be in November, how can I note it?
    – www
    Aug 28, 2017 at 11:15
  • Perhaps e.g. “Figure also used in Other paper title, Jones and Smith, OtherConf 2017”?
    – PLL
    Aug 28, 2017 at 11:22
  • 11
    If you have two papers, and you have a figure you drew which is suitable for both papers (this might be illustrating a process that is common to both papers, even if the papers are on substantially different aspects of this process), I see no reason to redraw the figure, although you should definitely note that you've reused it. If it's the right figure for both papers, don't waste your time redrawing it. Aug 28, 2017 at 11:44
  • 1
    It is quite nice to reuse 'standard' figures and examples for background material. In particular when it comes to quite messy combinatorial objects, that are known to be defined, but with a tricky definition. Sep 1, 2017 at 10:41

There are two concerns you must address if you want to reuse a figure: "self-plagiarism" and copyright.

To avoid self-plagiarism, one simply needs to cite their previous work in which the figure was published (because some fields treat conference proceedings as publications, I'm assuming your field does as well.).

Copyright becomes more difficult and would require all of the details such as which venue you initially published in and their specific copyright policy. Here are some possible methods to avoid copyright issues:

  1. Publish the figure first in a venue with generous copyright policy (e.g., PLoS ONE).

  2. Modify the figure so it is different and not an exact copy.

  3. Determine if your reuse falls under "fair use".

  4. Obtain permission from the original publisher to reuse your figure.

I have reused figures in my own journal articles, but my employer does not allow the work to be copyrighted in the US so I only need to worry about self-plagiarism.

For most academics, copyright can be a problem. Your university likely has people who can help you. Personally, I would ask a librarian. For example, the University of Virginia's library has a resource page on how to get permission to reuse a figures.

Also, PLoS ONE discusses this topic more in a blog post on resuse and includes more details on copyright issues.

  • 2
    I expect no journal would ever be stupid enough to risk the bad publicity they'd get if they sued an author for reusing a figure that they drew themself. Aug 28, 2017 at 15:08
  • @PeterShor sadly, I think you may be too optimistic. Commentary from the Duke library describes a lawsuit over a textbook (different than reuse), but also describes "John Doe" lawsuits where the the defendants are unnamed . Aug 28, 2017 at 15:56
  • 1
    Looking at that commentary, I see no reason to change my mind about my previous comment. The publishers are going after an organization that wants to provide free or cheap textbooks to replace the very expensive ones the publishers print (and they're using borderline cases of copyright infringement in order to do this, because the organization has been careful not to give then any clear cases). They're not going after random journal paper authors. If they did, they'd be shooting themselves in the foot because people would stop submitting papers to their journals. Sep 1, 2017 at 11:05

Conferences are about reaching out and sharing research with peers interested in said research.

If both conferences involve different audiences, seems fine really, and not unethical.

Unless conference organisers specifically demand that paper content be completely original.

At worse, the odd member of the audience will attend both conferences. If your papers are making different points, showing identical figures should not be an issue.

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