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Copyright for Images: Start Here

Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

Fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law allow use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright holder.

Is my use fair? -- The four factor test:

Fair Use Table

It is necessary to weigh all four factors to decide whether a fair use exemption seems to apply to a proposed reuse. Courts take a holistic approach -- they do not simply add up a positive or negative for each factor.

Judges have tended to focus on two questions that collapse the four factors:

  • Does the use transform the material, by using it for a different purpose?
  • Was the amount taken appropriate to the new purpose?

To help support a fair use case for an image:

  • Use lower resolution or thumbnail versions where possible;
  • Place the image in a new context or use it for a new purpose; and
  • Use only the parts of the image needed for the purpose

Information obtained from MIT Libraries and used with permission.


Can I use a picture decision tree

Questions & answers about using images

Can I use a coyrighted image for a classroom presentation or paper illustration?

Answer: In general, it is safe to say that images used in a classroom presentation, for a scholarly lecture, or in an unpublished assigned paper, fall under the concept of Fair Use.

May I copy an image to use in a class presentation?

Answer: Yes,

  • a single copy may be used for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class. "Image" refers to a chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture.
  • if fair use guidelines apply, OR
  • if the image has passed into the public domain.

Can I post images from Ebsco (or other databases) on my blog or social media?

Answer: No. Images in the Ebsco are licensed images and under specific copyright protection. They can only be used in classroom instruction, Sakai, class assignments and presentations, and theses.

Can I post images I've found through Google Images, Tumblr, Pinterest, or found somewhere else on the Internet to my blog or social media?

Answer: When posting or sharing other people or artists content online you should always ask permission from the intellectual property rights holder. Many times this is not an easy process. Best recommended practice is to cite and link the media used to its original source.

Can I use an image for a published scholarly article, book, dissertation or website?

Answer: You are responsible in these cases for obtaining permission, unless the work is in the public domain. This includes images used from databases.

Are Google images copyright free?

Answer: No. Unless otherwise indicated, assume Web images are copyright protected.

What alternatives are there?

Answer: Use copyright free images (here is a link to an article about several sources for royalty free images). Illustrations and images from many government sites are copyright free. Link to the image/illustration. Obtain permission.

May I use a photograph of a painting that is in the public domain without copyright permission?

Answer: No. Even though the painting is in the public domain, the photograph may be copyright protected.

Adapted from 1) Lesley University Library$sid=5375596 and used with permission and 2) Washburn University Mabee Library and used with permission.


Question: May I use a cartoon in a PowerPoint presentation for class?

Answer: As far as copyright is concerned, cartoons are treated like any other image.

Adapted from Washburn University Mabee Library with permission.

Clip Art

Question: May I freely use clipart?

Answer: No. Although clipart is sold to be copied, rights may be limited to personal use.

Public domain clip art can be found at

Adapted from Washburn University Mabee Library with permission.