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Copyright: Finding and Using Images

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Using Images

Using images and audiovisual material can be challenging due to the multi-layered rights involved. There are a wide range of images and artistic works created by individuals or generated by computers that encompass a host of commercial models. As with text-based material, these are all covered by copyright whether they are from print or electronic sources. The types of images may include graphs, charts, diagrams, fine art, illustrations, cartoons, photographs etc.

  • Copyright for artistic works lasts for 70 years from the death of the creator
  • Usually the photographer owns copyright for their own photographs
  • For employees who take photographs as part of their duties, copyright would normally belong to the employer

To support students and teachers in the legal and ethical use of images, we suggest that you focus on the types of image you are easily permitted to re-use. Creative Commons licensed images, copyright free (public domain) and educational content collections are often appropriate sources to draw upon. Always check the terms and conditions of re-use.

  • Use caution if sourcing images online; does the person posting the image have permission to do so? Is it the original, authentic digital version? Does it have an associated re-use license?
  • Use image collections which are licensed for educational use or licensed Creative Commons images
  • It may not be free to copy or distribute an image without the permission of the rights holder or the payment of a fee. Royalty free is not copyright free
  • You may find that using a reverse image search engine is helpful in identifying commercial images for which payment to re-use is required or ownership is unclear
  • You should always acknowledge and attribute the source of any image you decide to use

Does the 'fair dealing' exception apply to images?
This is a grey area as you would probably wish to use the whole image and not a partial image.  You could claim 'fair dealing' if you decided that you could rely on an educational exception. This would need to be for non-commercial research purposes, for private study, quotation, criticism or review, parody, caricature, pastiche or illustration for instruction. Unless you are confident that you can use an exception, you should obtain permission to use an image, particularly if it will be openly available, e.g. on the Web.

If you wanted to use a third-party image within a new published work you should always seek permission from the copyright holder and keep a copy of your correspondence. Fair dealing would not be applicable to using a high resolution photograph in these circumstances.

Referencing Your Images

You should always attribute the source of your image. This means that you must cite with sufficient acknowledgement and include it in your reference list, bibliography, blog post, presentation or website. Keeping an accurate record will enable you, or someone using your work, to be able to find the original source.

Include the following information: Author or Maker / Title / URL source of the image or film / Date produced and License Type (if appropriate).
Some image databases will include a suitable acknowledgement for you to use. There are also Creative Commons attribution tools available from the Creative Commons Toolbox below which will produce a suitable acknowledgment. If you use an image from Flickr or Creative Commons, the name of the individual who has uploaded the image can be used.

Additional referencing information for a variety of styles is available from the Library Referencing Guides.
Extensive information on referencing images using Vancouver can be found in the full guide below.

Creative Commons (CC)

Creative Commons (CCL) are pre-prepared licences that are intended to help copyright holders distribute their work; they define how it can be used by others without the need to grant permission each time someone wants to use it.            

Creative Commons, has a number of model licences which authors can apply ‘as given’ or adapted to their requirements.  The licences contain four main elements:

  • Attribution (BY)- You must credit the licensor of the work.                 
  • Non Commercial (NC)- You can only use the work for non-commercial purposes                 
  • No Derivatives (ND)- You may not create adaptations of the work.                 
  • Share alike (SA)- You may create adaptations of the work, but these must be under the same licence as this work.                 

These elements then combine to form six licences plus a final CC Zero or public domain licence which purports to waive all rights to the material it is applied to.               

  • Attribution-Only (CC-BY)              
  • Attribution-No-Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)               
  • Attribution-Non-Commercial No–Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND)                 
  • Attribution-Non-Commercial (CC-BY-NC)                 
  • Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA)                 
  • Attribution-Share Alike (CC-BY-SA)                 
  • Public Domain (CC-0)

Creative Commons ToolBox

External Links

Quick Guide Table - Using Images

Specialised Image Sites

Image by raphaelsilva from Pixaby

      Click on a tab to select an image resource


You will see:

  • a hyperlink to visit the website;
  • a short description of the resource at the bottom of the panel;
  • and a list of associated re-use conditions and acknowledgement statements where they are available.
    ​​​​​Always check applicable terms and conditions for each site.

MedPix Licence

"MedPix® images and case materials were contributed by many individuals. They are organized, reviewed, approved, and curated free of charge for your personal use and for local teaching at your institution - including distribution of handouts and syllabi. For anything other than personal use, you should respect the original contributor and contact them for additional permission requests." 

Images are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Free Image Sites

Participating institutions link to their Rights Statement from this page:

License Agreement

Licensee may use the Work in non-commercial and commercial projects, services or products without attribution.

Nappy Stock Photos

Culturally diverse photos of black and brown people.

Licence conditions

All photos posted on Nappy are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) 

Moving Image Gateway

Where does your image come from?