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Copyright for Research: Reuse of Published Material

Guide for copyright relating to State DOT research reports

Using charts and graphs from published materials

In general, under US copyright laws, information, facts and data are not subject to copyright protection - the exception to this could be when data is in the form of software.  When information, facts and/or data are compiled and organized in the form of a report, database or graphical representation, copyright is automatically applied unless stated otherwise.  While a single chart or graph may not seem to constitute a large percentage of a report, it can represent a major portion of the research results identified in the report, and fair use may not apply. In general, these materials should not be copied in their entirety or original format without permission from the creator. Giving attribution to the source without gaining permissions does not fulfill fair use requirements. 

TxDOT, in their University Handbook, cautions their partners about the reuse of copyrighted material:
"Prior use of the material in a TxDOT or governmental publication does not necessarily constitute permission to use it in a later publication."

Acceptable reuse of materials:

  • Using raw data or information to compile your own document or graphical representation
  • Taking brief portions of verbatim text (generally not more than a short paragraph), separating this text using quote marks, and attributing the source
  • Linking to copyrighted material on another website from your website

How to determine whether or not something can be copied

Look for a clear copyright statement

  • If the publication states that it is in the public domain, use of any of the materials within the publication can be reused or modified without getting permission
  • Certain Creative Commons licenses allow for reuse - and sometimes modification - of materials without obtaining permission

If the publication has a statement of rights protected by copyright and was published after 1923, permission must be obtained by the copyright holder in order to reuse the material. If no copyright statement is applied, and the material has been published/created after 1989, copyright must be assumed and you need to consider whether or not the material meets the intent and criteria of fair use.  This applies to web-based material as well as printed publications.

How to obtain permission for reuse

  1. Determine who the copyright owner is.  Generally, the work's creator holds the copyright, but that is not always the case.  For articles in proprietary journals, the publisher - rather than the author - often holds the copyright.  In such cases, the author may have permission to distribute a draft version of the report, depending on the language of the contract with the journal. The librarian can help with this process.
  2. Contact the copyright owner for permission.  Be specific about what materials you want to use, and how they will be used.  See the sample permission request form below, based on a template developed by the University of Texas Libraries. Often, authors are very glad to share their work, but respect their right to refuse permission.
  3. Sometimes, the copyright owner cannot be found despite due diligence.  Such "orphan works" are still legally covered under copyright, but there is an increasing recognition that some legislation needs to be put in place to allow these works to be used. 
  4. Our university partners often have access to the Copyright Clearance Center, which can assist in obtaining permissions.

TxDOT, in their University Handbook, suggests the following acknowledgment of permission:

 “Reprinted from (title of publication) by (name of author), by permission of (name of copyright owner). Year of first publication _____.”  (p. 6-15)