Learn how to legally re-use your own figures

Do you create figures for your papers? And then publish your papers in closed-access journals?

Copyright agreements will vary from publisher to publisher, but if you have created your own figures and illustrations for your publication, nobody else will be able to reuse them, unless they are granted permission by the publisher. In some cases, not even you, as the author, would have permission to reuse those figures.

Sara Hänzi explains how to legally re-use your own figures and, in turn, create more visibility to your work.

(This blog was originally published by Sara Hänzi  in 2016, on the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich blog)

How to legally re-use your own figures

When working on the figures for a recent paper I realised that I was using schemes of the animal I work with that come from a copyright-protected book. I decided that I will get rid of those schemes and instead produce my own. However, there was still a potential copyright issue: depending on where the paper would be published, the rights for the figures might well end up with the journal rather than with me. The solution that allows you and others to re-use your own figures is to publish everything on a platform such as figshare under a creative commons license before you publish it in a paper, and then cite yourself on figshare in your paper. That’s what I did!

So here are some tadpoles and froglets


They come from here, or I can cite it like a paper (Hänzi and Straka, 2016). Figshare is very helpful as it shows you how to cite anything on their database: at the top they have a ‘cite’ option, which gives you the doi and the citation.

Even cooler, figshare has version control: for instance, here I put all the images of the tadpoles, and then I added another one after publishing it, so now it is on version two. The doi without a version number at the end will always send you to the latest version.

I used some of the pictures to make more schematised versions which can be used in figures where details do not matter. One of them looks like this:


The CC-BY licence allows you to use, re-use, modify and even commercially use my figures, as long as you say where the original came from. So feel free to use and share!

If you want to know more about licensing, check out the creative commons site, and when you send something to a journal, check who will hold the copyright!

Hänzi, Sara; Straka, Hans (2016): Xenopus laevis: overview over late tadpole stages. figshare. https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3839991.v1 Retrieved: 14 53, Nov 05, 2016 (GMT)

Creative Commons licenses are built on top of copyright to allow the creator more freedom, choosing how their work is used, shared, or adapted. This means that you still own copyright for any works published under a Creative Commons license, but you can give permission for users to re-use your work under terms chosen by you.

When publishing in figshare, your works are assigned a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which will gather metrics. In Hänzi’s example, one is able to see the number of views, downloads, citations, and social media interactions.

If you want to learn more about Creative Commons, or if you require assistance to publish in figshare, please contact Juliana Terciotti Magro at juliana.terciotti-magro@touro.edu.

Contributed by Juliana Terciotti Magro, Open Educational Resources Librarian at Midtown.

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