Is it considered "fair use" (i.e. legal) to use figures and/or images from a journal/conference publication, in educational material (possibly for a lay audience) that is monetized or monetizable, assuming proper referencing is done?

Example: suppose someone has a Youtube channel that discusses science, and wants to cover some immunology. Can they display a figure from a Nature review during their video (say for a 2 minutes in a 30 min video)? Such channels do make money (or can, at least) from advertising.

In some sense, this is similar to science journalism I suppose.

My thought is that the safest thing to do would be to ask the publisher (since I think that usually the author is not the legal holder anymore). But would that have to be done, say, for every video and every figure in each video (using the example above)?

I am not looking for formal legal advice, just whether an academic doing such a thing is uncommon, if people have some experience in such matters, whether one should feel confidently safe (or not) to do such a thing, etc...

Edit: I'm mainly interested in the USA and Canada.

  • Ask whomever holds the copyright is IMHO the best way to go about it.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 5:51
  • I can't answer anyway, but to stand a chance of useful answers you will need to specify what country you are in. Copyright law, and fair use provisions in particular, varies widely.
    – Flyto
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 13:20
  • @Flyto I've edited to note that I am interested specifically in North America. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 20:41
  • copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 23:18
  • @BryanKrause Awesome link; thanks! It does make it seem more reasonable, assuming the figures make up only a small portion of the work. Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 1:54

1 Answer 1


That is very problematic. Even if the author would allow it, the copyright is usually owned by the publisher and they are usually not interested in sharing. And even if they would allow it in principle, they are certainly not interested in answering letters from people that want to make Youtube videos.

Things are differently if the material is published under a less restrictive license, for example Creative Commons. Then you just have to follow the rules of the license. But even if the paper is published under Creative Commons, that does not necessarily hold for the pictures and secondly it only holds for very few publications.

That said, there are rules such as "Fair Use", but you have to consult a lawyer to get to know if these apply in your case. Have a look at Can I use data and images found online in my project report, under the fair use clause in copyright law?

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. I figured things might be easier in cases like open access journals. I feel like fair use would apply if it was not monetized, but otherwise probably not... Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 1:52
  • My understanding is that fair use doesn't even apply once you make photocopies for a second consecutive offering of a class. You certainly shouldn't make it part of a book (and no, I am not a lawyer etc.).
    – kcrisman
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 12:23
  • @kcrisman Sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean. Photocopies of figures in ... course notes? I guess you're saying one shouldn't put figures from papers into a book and sell it without permission (makes sense). I suppose it is analogous to videos. :) Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 20:41
  • I mean quite seriously that the interpretations I've read (no claim on their accuracy, though I think they are) say that up to X pages or < 1 chapter reproduce is okay for a class, but if you do the same class a second time then you are violating copyright and should have them copied with permission (and payment) in a properly constructed course guide. (I mean for actually handing out for students to keep, not just showing in a lecture.) Selling has nothing to do with whether it violates copyright. But obviously this comment thread is getting more off-topic so I'll stop there.
    – kcrisman
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 2:17

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