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The home page of Indiana University Libraries' guide to copyright law.

Image Basics

Images present special challenges because they often do not have any identifying information – such as a copyright notice or other information about the creator and date of creation – on them. What is more, there could be two or more potential copyrights or other property rights in an image, including the image itself, as well as any underlying copyrighted or trademarked images. Images that include people in them could require a release or waiver for privacy or publicity rights (see model release form from Indiana University: If permission is needed for your use, it is advisable to obtain it, regardless of how difficult it is to find the owner or owners.

Finding Copyright Owners

It can be difficult to find the copyright owners of an image.  The following tools can be of use:

  • Google Image Search ( can reveal information on an image’s artist, photographer or other rights holder. Google’s advanced image search ( can be used to filter images by type of licensed uses.
  • ARTStor ( is a nonprofit digital image library of over 1,000,000 images in the areas of art, architecture, the humanities, and social sciences. It includes current information on the rights holders and permissible uses for images in the ARTStor database.

Using Images in Publications

If you want to use an image in a publication, you need to go through the same steps as using any other material.  So, you first need to determine whether the material is still in copyright, whether your use is a fair use, or whether you need to obtain permission from the owner. The use of a thumbnail of an image for informational or transformative purposes (e.g., the use serves as indexing or provides timeline information) that does not undermine the copyright owners potential market for the image has been held to be a fair use.

Using Images in Teaching, Research, Scholarship, or Creative Work

You may be able to use an image by relying on one of the statutory limitations within copyright law, such as fair use or section 110(1), which covers face-to-face teaching.  If your use does not fall within one of these statutory limitations, you may need to obtain permission. 

The Digital Image Rights Computator ( from the Visual Resources Association ( provides a decision tree for the use of images.

The Visual Resource Association’s Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study identifies “six uses of copyrighted still images that the Visual Resources Association ( believes fall within the U.S. doctrine of fair use.  The six uses are: 1) preservation (storing images for repeated use in a teaching context and transferring images to new formats); 2) use of images for teaching purposes; 3) use of images (both large, high-resolution images and thumbnails) on course websites and in other online study materials; 4) adaptations of images for teaching and classroom work by students; 5) sharing images among educational and cultural institutions to facilitate teaching and study; and 6) reproduction of images in theses and dissertations.” (Executive Summary, p.1).

The College Art Association's Code of Best of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts is based on a consensus of visual arts professionals who use copyrighted texts, images, and other resources and materials in their teaching, research, scholarship, or creative work. For more information on the guidelines see:

Licensing Images

Once you determine who the artist or photographer is, some of the following licensing agencies can provide you with a license for your use:

Free Images

Gate of Blackburn Museum and Art GalleyHere are some sources of public domain or free images.

Further Reading