Visual Resources Collection
Copyright and Image Use
Copyright law and image-use guidelines are not always clear-cut and are, at best, very complicated. A variety of circumstances will inform the correct approach to copyright clearance.
In any case, it is best to attempt to identify rights-holders, to analyze your intended use and its potential impact on a rights-holder, and to seek permissions as needed for any work that is not unquestionably in the public domain.
Can I use this image in my coursework and assignments?
Probably. The use of copyrighted images for educational purposes is often allowed under Fair Use Exemptions to Copyright (U.S. Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107). Use of a copyrighted work for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research are not considered infringements if the use weighs favorably when considering four factors:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work
Generally speaking, using copyrighted images in a paper or other class assignment is considered a fair use. However, if an assignment includes posting images on a publicly accessible website, that could be considered a publication (see below) and is more likely considered a copyright infringement.
In other words, fair use is not always clear and must be decided on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the four factors listed above.
Can I use this image on my website, blog or newsletter?
Probably not. The use of copyrighted images for commercial or publication purposes is usually not allowed under Fair Use. These may include the use of images:
- in a publication, including newsletters, journals, newspapers, or magazines
- on a website that anyone (not just those with a password) can see, including blogs, wikis, or social networking sites
- on a product that is for sale
- on promotional materials, such as pamphlets, ads, or posters
In these cases, permissions must be attained.
As stated in other portions of this guide: when in doubt, it is always best to investigate rights-holders and inquire if the nature or character of your intended use is permitted.
Creative Commons Materials
Be sure the images you select are free from restrictions! Here are some sources to explore:
- Flickr Commons - to limit search to Creative Commons, click Advanced Search and check the appropriate box. When you click on an image you like, look for the copyright info under "Additional Information" in the bottom right.
- Wikimedia Commons - a database of freely usable media files.
- Google Usage Rights - to limit search, click Advanced Search and select appropriate level of access under "usage rights".
- MorgueFile - Free stock photos, created by artists for the common good.
- Finding Images Guide - explore the JHU guide on how to locate images; note that most of these are not free of license restriction, be sure to explore each image individual for permission.
Be sure to cite the source of your restriction-free image!
EXAMPLE: Image by Everyskyline via Flickr / CC by 2.0