Let’s take a pop quiz.
True or false…
Let’s say you’re presenting a symposium at a scientific congress and one of your employees has already published a review article on the topic. This employee would like to use several figures from that paper in the slide deck that’s being created for the symposium. Because the employee created them, he or she does not need permission to include them in the presentation.
The answer it turns out, isn’t a simple yes or no. It depends on the rights the author retained from the publisher.
Here’s why. Typically, the publisher becomes the copyright holder for the entire document, including the figures created by the author. It’s important for the author to review the agreement with the publisher. If the author didn’t retain any rights in the agreement with the publisher, permission is required to include the chart in a presentation to an audience, particularly if the presentation will be distributed afterwards.
True or false…
Next, let’s say you want to use a graphic from a publication that has been changed, or only a portion used in a new publication or presentation. Do you need to request permission to use it or can you just cite the source?
The answer to this question is two-fold.
First, attributing a source in a paper or presentation does not necessarily eliminate the need to obtain the copyright holder’s consent for use of content beyond the traditional limits associated with fair use. In a business context, the general answer is that, to lawfully use more than brief quotations from copyrighted materials, you must secure permission (or hold some other kind of license) from the respective copyright holders or their agents.
Next, facts themselves are not protected by copyright, no matter how much work went into finding those facts. So, if by “changed”, you mean that you have drawn out facts from a table or chart and you have recast them in a new table or chart and not taken anything protected by copyright, then you are fine because you have not taken anything that belongs to someone else. Nevertheless, good research practice would then recommend that you cite the source of the facts.
Finally, it is important to recall that copyright does not apply to ideas either; rather, it protects the expression of ideas. So, if, for example, you want to describe the nature of the experiment that someone else did and wrote up in an article, you are free to do that because the idea of, say, using mice instead of rats in an experiment does not belong to anyone. On the other hand, if you have used a portion of the content itself – that is, of the original author’s own description of the experiment beyond the recital of facts, then you should make sure you have the permissions to do so.
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