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Copyright Issues

Whitworth's (1981) Isothermal Free-Energy Surface
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Traditional Publication in Scholarly Journals

Over the past 40+ years as I have prepared articles for publication in, for example, The Astrophysical Journal, I have willingly followed the scientific community's established copyright rules, such as:

  • If you want to reprint a Figure from a previously published article, you must secure permission to reprint the Figure from the author of that published article.
  • You may include in your article the result of a mathematical derivation that appears in a previously published scholarly article if you give credit where credit is due. That is, if you explicitly cite the article (and, usually, the attending equation number) where the previous derivation was carried out.

Developing a Scholarly, MediaWiki-Based Article

As I have been developing a group of scholarly, MediaWiki-based chapters under the aggregate title of, "The Structure, Stability, & Dynamics of Self-Gravitating Fluids," I have attempted to continue to work within the professional community's adopted set of "reprint permissions" guidelines. But, in the modern/digital world, the detailed requirements are not always clear. I'll focus here on one specific example.

In one of my online chapters, I heavily reference the Blaes (1985, MNRAS, vol. 216, pp. 553-563) paper titled, "Oscillations of Slender Tori." (This MNRAS article is freely accessible to all, electronically.) As I developed the content of my online chapter, I thought it was important to "reprint" one figure (Fig. 1) and two equations (Eqs. 1.6 and 3.2) from Blaes (1985). In each case, I "cut" the Figure/Equation image from the paper digitally, then digitally imported the image into the MediaWiki-based online document.

Regarding the insertion of a digital image of each equations: I presume that I could simply re-type each of the equations (with accompanying acknowledgments) within the body of my chapter text, thereby bypassing the whole permissions issue. But, pedagogically, I prefer to post an image of each referenced equation so that the reader may more easily see how the results of my separate derivations (using different variable notations) compare to the original, published results.

Permission to Reprint Digitally?

In the context of copyright rules, I wondered whether or not I was allowed to digitally insert the three images (the Figure and two equations) into my online chapter without explicitly obtaining permission from the author and/or the journal. I went to what seemed to be the relevant page on the MNRAS website for guidance, and read the following set of instructions:

Publisher: Oxford University Press (Oxford Academic)
Copyright: Royal Astronomical Society
Rights & Permissions:

Excerpts from online instructions (verbatim text printed in dark green):

Requests to Reuse Figures

You are not required to obtain permission to reuse figures (including tables) for academic, educational or non-commercial research for the following material provided full acknowledgment is given to the original source including Figure Number, Title of the Article, Author, Journal Title and Volume or Issue.

Post 1998: a maximum of two figures (including tables) from a journal article or five figures per journal issue (unless a separate copyright holder is identified in such figure, in which event permission should be sought from that holder).

Pre 1998: a maximum of five figures (including tables) per journal article.

Other Permission Requests

For all other permission requests please email Journals Permissions clearly stating the material you wish to reuse and the way in which you wish to reuse it.

The first sentence under "Requests to Reuse Figures" seems to indicate that I do not have to explicitly seek permission from the author or the journal, given that a full acknowledgment accompanies each inserted digital image in my online chapter. However, the second ("Post 1998") sentence states that I am limited to the reuse of, at most, two figures/tables. It is unclear from this set of guidelines/rules how digital images of equations should be handled. It seems to me that they should count against the "figures/tables" limit because digitally reprinting an equation requires the same cut & paste strokes as are required to digitally reprint a figure.

In order to cover all bases, I decided to directly contact the author, Omer Blaes, and ask for his permission to reuse the three digital images that I had extracted from his 1985 paper.

Contacting the Author

I sent an email to Omer Blaes to "… formally seek permission from you to display several 'digital images' from your 1985 paper … within the text of my online presentations."

Omer quickly responded, saying … "Yes of course, you are welcome to use these images, at least as far as I am concerned. I don’t know what constraints the journal itself puts on this, but I think what you are doing is probably under some sort of definition of 'fair use'."

In a followup email, I thanked him and said … "I will separately make sure that permission is granted by the Royal Astronomical Society, as it appears that that entity officially holds the copyright."

Contacting the Journal (MNRAS via OUP)

The same MNRAS website that has been referenced above indicates that permissions requests regarding reuse may be emailed to

Step A

I sent an email to detailing the questions that I have regarding the reuse of MNRAS-archived (more broadly, OUP-archived) figures/equations in an online, MediaWiki-based article. As above, I used the Blaes (1985) publication as the example.

Disappointingly, the response that I received was a generic "Automatic Reply". It stated, in part … "All Journal permission requests should be directed to Rightslink …" A suggested path was "… at article level on the Oxford Journals website via the ‘Permissions’ link." Indeed, essentially the same instruction can be found on the website; here is a screenshot (#1) of the relevant instruction.

Screenshot #1
Rightslink Instructions

Step B

I then went to the MNRAS web page that displays the title/abstract/etc. of the Blaes (1985) article. As the following screenshot (#2) shows, there is indeed a "Permissions" link immediately above the Abstract.

Screenshot #2
Example MNRAS article link

Step C

I clicked on this "Permissions" link and was taken to a RightsLink page that displayed the following (screenshot #3) information and instruction:

Screenshot #3
Example MNRAS article link

Notice that I am directed not to use the RightsLink service but, instead, to send my request to

Step D

Repeat "Step A".

Contacting the MNRAS Editorial Board

At this point, I decided to seek guidance directly from the editor-in-chief of MNRAS. I spent a couple of hours piecing together the contents of this web page so that the editor would understand my basic questions regarding reuse guidelines, as well as the frustration that I have experienced while trying to obtain answers to these questions. Then, I went to the Royal Astronomical Society web page that identifies who serves on the "Editorial Boards & Team" of the MNRAS and, in particular, who currently serves as editor-in-chief. To my surprise, I discovered that Omer Blaes is one member of this team.

What should I do next? Rather than contacting the editor-in-chief directly, I think I will bug Omer again :)

Whitworth's (1981) Isothermal Free-Energy Surface

© 2014 - 2021 by Joel E. Tohline
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Appendices: | Equations | Variables | References | Ramblings | Images | myphys.lsu | ADS |
Recommended citation:   Tohline, Joel E. (2021), The Structure, Stability, & Dynamics of Self-Gravitating Fluids, a (MediaWiki-based) publication,