Finding Images


CC0 public domain image from Library of Congress.

About This Guide

This guide will help faculty and students consider copyright restrictions and related issues when selecting images to use in coursework, course materials, scholarship, research, and teaching. Use this guide to consider your ethical responsibilities when searching and selecting images to use, especially images which require permission for use. Follow the tabs above to find help, specific tools, and searching techniques.

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The United States Copyright Office defines copyright as “a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.” Images on the internet are protected by copyright, even when this is not stated by the owner of the image (a copyright symbol may not be present). Remember, if you are not the creator, you need permission. Some exceptions exist, such as Fair Use and Public Domain, that allow you to appropriately use works as a creator of new materials.

Fair Use

Section 107 of copyright law outlines exceptions as Fair Use to be: “various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” At the same time, use of images should not be for commercial purposes. It may be difficult to tell if using a copyrighted image qualifies under the Fair Use policy– when in doubt, the best possible method is to seek permission from the owner of the image before using it, explaining your purposes and reasons for using their creations. Obviously, seeking out a creator is not the most timely and easy solution. You may not need to under Fair Use. If you still are unsure ask your instructor, or a librarian for help. Online tools such as this Fair Use guide exist to help you think thoughtfully about your options.

Creative Commons

Because copyright implies the highest level of restriction, creators who want more flexibility placed on works elect to use another type of licence. Choosing to make their images and other works available under a Creative Commons License for public use under certain conditions, such as stipulating that you must credit them (through citation or attribution) as the source of that image and not use the image for your own profit-seeking purposes.

Public Domain

Public Domain, according to the United States Copyright Office, refers to “a work of authorship… [that] is no longer under copyright protection or it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.” This means you do not have to ask permission when a work, like an image, falls into the category of the Public Domain, but it is always good practice to give credit.

Remember to always cite images, both in the text with a caption, and in the bibliography or references. Do not use more than five images by any one artist or photographer, and not more than 10% or 15 images from any one published collective work.


Use databases to gain access to images for educational use.

  • ARTstor is a digital library of more than one million images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences with a suite of software tools for teaching and research. The collections include contributions from international museums, photographers, libraries, scholars, photo archives, and artists.
  • Finding Medical Images Part II is a tutorial by the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library at Yale. The tutorial shows you how to search databases hosted by government agencies, like the National Library of Medicine and other government websites, when looking for images related to medicine and the sciences.

If you are searching for images in other databases, limit your search to images, and remember to consider copyright restrictions when using these images. When in doubt, cite or ask a librarian.

About Finding and Using Images

  • Know More Now: Searching Smarter in Google, a post from our very own blog, provides insight on utilizing Google’s incredible searching power to your best academic advantage, featuring tips and tricks to search smarter, whether for text content or images.
  • Public Domain Images provides an explanation of what it means when an image is available under public domain, outlines differences between public domain and creative commons images, discusses ethical responsibilities of users of images, and gives examples of types of images that are normally available under public domain.
  • Find Creative Commons images with Image Search, on Google’s official blog, explains how to search for creative commons images in Google through the advanced image search page.

Sources for Images

Archival and Digital Library Collections


  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), search collections by object, date, or subject. Tip limit your search to “show public domain images only.”
  • Getty Research Institute Images digital collections provide free access to a growing number of digitized items from the Research Library, Special Collections, Photo Archive, and Institutional Archives. These materials range from the 15th century to the present and include books, photographs, manuscripts, archives, and works on paper.
  • LIFE photo archive hosted by Google, search millions of (mostly unpublished) photographs from the LIFE photo archive, going back to the 1750s.


  • The Public Domain Review is a not-for-profit project dedicated to showcasing the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works available online. It includes articles from leading scholars, writers, archivists, and artists, as well as curated collections of films, audio, images and texts.Tip: To search for images on this site, add to your own keywords in a Google search.
  • Public Domain Picturesprovides some free stock photos posted by members of the site. Other stock photos are available for a small fee. You can also upload your own images for others to use. A toolbar at the top of the page provides many categories in which you can find images.
  • Flickr: Creative Commons provides images uploaded by Flickr account holders who have chosen to offer their work under Creative Commons license. There are different types of licenses under the Creative Commons license, and images are sorted by type of license.
  • Wikimedia Commons is affiliated with Wikipedia, specifically featuring images. Quality of photography is not guaranteed, but images are generally available at a high resolution.
  • Creative Commons Search provides searchable content you can “share, use and remix,” including content you can use for commercial purposes or modify, adapt, or build upon for your own purposes.
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images ( holds government photos and images sorted by topic, some are in the public domain or are U.S. Government works others may be copyrighted.
  • WorldImages Kiosk is a searchable image database created by various faculty, staff and students of the CSU system. Global in coverage, it contains over 50,000 historical images from a wide variety of fields. These images are licensed under a Creative Commons license and may be used for non-profit, educational purposes as long as credit is given to the copyright holders who retain rights to the images.


Science and Medicine


Search the library catalog for print books and ebooks related to copyright, public domain, fair use, creative commons, and other related topics. The Library owns materials that can help with concepts, definitions, and further resources.

How to Cite

Check with your instructor to see which citation style is required for your class.


See the Purdue OWL MLA Works Cited: Electronic Sources (Web Publications) guide to learn how to cite electronic sources in MLA format, including images.


See the Purdue OWL APA Reference List: Electronic Sources (Web Publications) guide to cite electronic sources in APA format, specifically the section on “Graphic Data” in reference to images.

Chicago and More Image Citation Examples

See the University of Cincinnati Library’s Media Citing Images: Citation Examples Libguide. Lists examples from the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, and APA.