Cross posted from academia.SE link

I have been following the review process of a replication journal

In particular, it has an open review which can be seen.

On a particular submission they are having a debate about whether copying equations and their explanation in a paper counts as copyright infringement.

I would like to ask this question here, since the answer seems non-obvious.

Equations, by themselves, since they are ideas, should be free from copyright infringement. But to have equations, explanations, replica of figures, and discussion, would basically be a copy of the paper, and I imagine that would be copyright infringement. Where exactly can a line be drawn?

Note: There are questions on stack exchange which ask similar questions, but often in context of building up on previous research. Since the point of such a journal is just to replicate, it would seems that the aim is to build a freely available copy of the existing (perhaps paywalled, copyrighted) material, that can be freely accessed, and this is different intent than regular articles.

Also, answers regarding plagiarism aren't much help in this case as the point is to do "explicit plagiarism" with proper attribution.

  • Plagiarism goes beyond copyright protection, since, notably, plagiarism includes ideas and copyright does not. If you draw a diagram based on a certain idea, and the diagram happens to resemble another diagram based on the same idea, there is no copyright violation unless you actually copied the other diagram in creating yours, but there might be plagiarism.
    – phoog
    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:46
  • But if you explicitly claim that this is not your work, and give proper attribution to the original work, then as I understand, it is not plagiarism. I see you're right. the question should say copyright violation, not plagiarism. will edit the question for that, Aug 18, 2017 at 12:50
  • A related point: plagiarism isn't necessarily illegal. The academic world has created its own mechanisms to deal with plagiarism, including peer review, because of this. Surely something can be at the same time plagiarism and a copyright violation, in which case it's worthy of discussion here, and there might be other legal angles to an act of plagiarism (fraud, perhaps?), but plagiarism per se is not a crime.
    – phoog
    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


Copyright protection exists for the (typeset) image of an equation, so you have to recreate the equation (the final output could be indistinguishable from the original when the object is created automatically by a program and you happen to use the same program). Figures may enjoy a more protection, since they involve both the facts reported and the means of expression (rows and columns, order, subgroup, labels). Explanations and discussion (I don't know what distinction you're getting at there) are text from the original article,and those are indeed protected by copyright, which is moderated by the "fair use" exception. There are various claims out there about how much you can quote with the confines of fair use, but nobody really know in the academic context (as far as I know, there is no case law in the US that tests how much quoting you can do in an academic journal). The basic rule of thumb is to quote only when the literal words are required, and otherwise re-express the idea.

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