Images: Using Images

How am I going to use the image?

How you are using the image guides your search for an image with a license that allows for your intended use. Most images are okay to use in live lectures and presentations as long as you are not publishing the materials for a public audience (e.g. on the web, in a book, or other publication). If you need an image to use for a publication, you’ll have to find an image with a license that allows you to do so, or get permission from the copyright holder.

Things to consider include:

  • Are you altering the image or using the original?
  • Where the image will ultimately end up -- is it openly available to the public at large? Or for a defined audience (e.g. classroom students)?
  • Is the use commercial? (Will you earn any money from what you are creating?)


  • Find an image with a license that meets your requirements (e.g Creative Commons license), OR
  • Determine if your intended use can be classified as Fair Use, OR
  • Request permission from the copyright holder

No matter which option:

  • Cite the source of the image 

Types of Usage Rights

Images you find may have usage rights that have been spelled out by the owner. Here are some common terms to describe allowable use and their definitions:

  • Free to share and use: Changing and editing not allowed, but using and sharing is permitted.  Non-commercial use.
  • Free to share and use commercially: Changing and editing not allowed, but using and sharing is permitted.  Commercial and non-commercial use allowed.
  • Free to modify, share, and use: Same as "Free to share and use" and you can also edit and modify images.
  • Free to modify, share, and use commercially: Images can be shared, used, edited for both commercial and non-commercial use.
  • Public domain: Works owned by the public.  May use, share, modify, for commercial and non-commercial use.

Understanding Fair Use

Fair Use is not black and white. Rather, you use four factors to make a balanced assessment as to whether your use of an image (or other works) qualify as fair use:

  1. The purpose of the use should be for non-profit education. If the use adds to the original in some creative way (like commenting on a poem or making a parody), the fair use argument is stronger.
  2. Factual material (such as diagrams and basic illustrations) is more likely to qualify as fair use; creative work like music and art gets stronger protection. Unpublished work also gets more protection
  3. Use only that amount of the original work that is necessary to accomplish the non-profit, educational purpose.
  4. Avoid uses that substitute for purchasing available copies; damaging the market for the original counts heavily against fair use.

Creative Common Licenses

Creative Commons is a set of public copyright licenses that enable free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work and allow copyright owners to specify what rights they are granting. Copyright owners can clearly designate the extent of reuse rights and users get certainty about what they are allowed to do.

cc by license iconAttribution.  The most open of the CC licenses,   CC BY requires only attribution of the copyright owner. Users can reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain the content.

ccbysa iconOthers can remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

ccynd iconAllows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the copyright owner.

ccbync icon Allows for remixing, tweaking, and building upon copyrighted work non-commercially.

ccbyncsa iconAllows remixing, tweaking, and building upon copyrighted work non-commercially, as long as the owner is credited and license new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

ccbyncnd icon Allows downloading and sharing of the copyrighted work as long as owner is credited. Neither derivatives nor commercial use of the work is allowed.