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Images: Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use

Published onNov 03, 2022
Images: Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use

Do you have permission to reproduce the image?

In nearly all cases, you must have permission to reproduce any images you include to your chapter. Unless you created the image yourself, you must assume that it is protected by copyright and that you do not have permission to reproduce it.

However, there are certain scenarios where it is more or less safe to reproduce an image without permission:

  • The image is in the Public Domain. Public Domain works are not protected by copyright. Generally, works produced before 1927 and works of the US Government fall into this category.

  • The image bears a copyright license that permits reproduction and/or other kinds of reuse. Works bearing Creative Commons licenses, for example, or works on royalty-free image websites like, basically come packaged with the permission to reproduce them, as long as you adhere to the terms of the specific license used on the image.

  • Your use of the image constitutes a Fair Use. Fair Use is an exemption to copyright, which allows creators to make limited uses of copyright-protected works in certain cases (such as education, scholarship, or criticism), without first obtaining permission.

Beach photographer taking pictures of mother, children, and a dog. The Netherlands, about 1930.

This image is in the public domain, so it can be reproduced freely. | Image source: Strandfotograaf / Beach Photographer flickr photo by Nationaal Archief shared with no copyright restrictions

Is my use of the image a Fair Use?

Fair Use is always determined on a case-by-case basis. For the purposes of this project, your use of a copyright-protected image is likely a Fair Use if you can answer yes to all of the following questions:

1. Is it necessary to include the image to make your point?

If readers must view the image in order to gain a full understanding of your chapter, then your use leans toward being a Fair Use. If your image is simply serving a decorative purpose, it is likely not a Fair Use.

Additionally, if you can transcribe portions of a text-based source (things like letters, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, etc.) without it affecting your argument, that is preferable to using the image itself.

2. Are you only using the amount or portion(s) necessary?

Sometimes it’s possible to get away with only using a portion of an image rather than using the entire thing. For example, you might include a cropped portion of a painting focusing on a specific detail, or an image of a single page of a letter that contains specific visual detail that can’t be transcribed. By only using the portion(s) necessary, your use is more likely to be a Fair Use.

3. Did you acquire the image legally from a legitimate source?

Search engines like Google Images are not sources of images—they are simply pointing to sources, many of which are websites that are not using the images appropriately or legally. If you cannot locate the original source of the image (often within a book, physical archive, or online collection associated with a library, museum, or other cultural heritage institution), then please do not use it in your chapter.

4. Did you provide an adequate attribution statement?

By giving proper attribution to the creator or copyright holder of the image, and providing readers with access to the original source, we acknowledge that the work is someone else’s, and we act in good faith as scholars. See Images: Attribution

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