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 This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.”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.
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 work. 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.
Because copyright implies the highest level of restriction, creators who want more flexibility placed on works elect to use another type of licence. Some creators choose 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, 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 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.
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 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 explains how to search for creative commons images in Google through the advanced image search page.
Sources for Images
Use the P.R.O.V.E.N. Test for Evaluating Sources to evaluate any websites you find.
Archival and Digital Library Collections
- Digital Public Library of America searches millions of photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds, moving images, and more from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States.
- Library of Congress American Digital Collections provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.
- British Library Flickr Stream contains over a million images from copyright-free books from the 17th, 18th and 19th Century.
- British Library Online Gallery contains 30,000 online searchable items made available. Create an account and curate your own images through the personal galleries feature.
- New York Public Library Digital Collections contains over 700,000 items from NYPL.
- Smithsonian Institution Digital Collections contains over 8.1 million cataloged items relating to Art, Design, History, Culture, Science, and Technology, with 860,477 images, videos, audio files, podcasts, blog posts and electronic journals available.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) allows searching collections by object, date, or subject. Tip limit your search to “show public domain images only.”
- Getty Research Institute Images 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 contains 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 site:publicdomainreview.org to your own keywords in a Google search.
- Public Domain Pictures provides 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 (USA.gov) 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.
- David Rumsey Historical Map Collection contains rare and mostly 18th and 19th century digitized items pertaining largely to North and South America.
- Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection includes historical maps from all over the world.
- UCLA Digital Collections searches creative commons licence collections containing historical, global and local maps.
Science and Medicine
- Chemical Heritage Foundation Image Archive contains images and other materials related to the history of chemistry.
- Public Health Image Library contains public domain and copyright protected images, easily browsed by category.
- NASA Images contains image galleries pertaining to topics in astronomy, astrophysics, space, and related earth science subjects, as well as historical images.
- NASA Visible Earth is a collection of mostly public domain images of Earth taken from space.
- U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Collection is a collection of public domain images. Freely search and browse photographs taken during geologic studies from 1868 to the present.
- U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery contains many copyright-free and public domain images. Browse the Agricultural Research Service images and find high-quality photos, easily by category.
- Government Resources for Images, hosted by the Library of Congress, is a list of image resources for the sciences.
Search the library catalog (books+) 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 for examples from the Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, and APA.