Q: Is permission required for citing a figure published by an international organization?

Detailed Question -

If I want to cite a figure or graph open to the public online by an international organization such as OECD, should I get permission from OECD? I would like to use this figure as is without any editing. Of course, I will mention the source, but I'm wondering whether I should get permission as well. The raw data is not disclosed on the site, but the graph is disclosed in the form of an Excel file, and so, I have to extract some parts of the graph. As far as I know, permission is required when citing illustrations and graphs published by academic journals and publishers. I wonder if the same is the case with international organizations.

In addition, I would like to ask about the following scenarios.

  • When citing publicly available tables and graphs from press releases, reports, and open data issued by national organizations, should I inform or get permission from them?
  • Is there a difference between using for non-profit purposes and using for profit purposes?
  • Is there a difference between tables and graphs/images/photos? In other words, I would like to know that when reproducing tables or figures from international organizations, national organizations, and publishers, do all have the same guidelines for permission or there are any differences respectively?
1 Answer to this question

You have multiple questions, but they are all around one point: whether you need permission to use textual and visual data or representation of data made available from international and national organizations. I shall first respond to the general question and then the specific questions.

This content, just like the content in a research journal, is the copyright of the respective organization (unless stated otherwise) and therefore has usage guidelines and policies for how you can use that content. These terms are typically available through a page or section on their site called something like Copyright Usage/Permission/Policy. For instance, that of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is OECD Terms and Conditions. According to most guidelines, you are free to use unedited content without seeking permission but simply through including a reference. Each site has a specific style for how to provide the reference, so you will need to go through the respective site.

Now, if you wish to modify the content in some way, you will most probably need to request for permission. However, again, each site specifies a permissible amount for which you don’t need to request permission. Again, you will need to go through the respective site to know the percentage limit. The OECD Terms and Conditions page, for instance, says the following about material other than publications and working papers (such as tables): "30% or less of a complete work or a maximum of 5 tables and/or graphs taken from a work is granted free of charge and without formal written permission provided You do not alter the Material in any way and You cite the source as follows: OECD/(co-author(s) if any) (year), (Title), URL."

If you need to request permission, you typically do it through a form available on the same page or section. Some organizations (sites) may redirect you to Copyright Clearance Centre (CCC), an organization that handles copyright permissions for various types of literature and content.

The responses to your specific questions are similar to the above.

  • Permission for publicly available content issued by national organizations: You need to only make a reference if using the content without modifying it extensively.
  • Difference between non-profit use and profit use: If you plan to use the content or data for commercial use (for-profit purposes), you will need to request permission.
  • Difference between tables and graphs/images/photos: There doesn’t seem to be any discernible difference between the two types of data or data representation. As above, if you are not modifying the data, you are fine with only providing a reference. However, one point you may need to keep in mind is whether the image or photo (basically, a purely graphical item) is the copyright of the organization or that of another source, that is, a third party, from which the organization itself has obtained permission. In such cases, you will need to obtain permission from the third party rather than from the organization.

Finally, though, there is one part of your question that seems a bit contradictory. Initially, you have said that you plan to use the figure “as is, without any editing.” Later, you have written that you “have to extract some parts of the graph.” Whatever be the case, based on the above points, you need to make a judicious decision for your project.

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