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Copyright : a practical guide

Copyright in images

Whether you are blogging, creating a presentation, writing for publication or designing a poster, you are likely to want to illustrate your material with other people's images on occasion.

Bear in mind that free-to-view images are not necessarily free to re-use.  Even uncredited photos on transient websites may be protected by copyright.  If the creator or host has not stated that they allow further use of the image, you should ask for permission to reproduce it.  If you don't get a reply, you shouldn't go ahead.

If you intend to reproduce an image in order to critique or review it, you may not need permission: UK copyright law permits you to 'quote' from copyright material, including images, providing your use is 'fair dealing'.  Essentially, this means your copy must have no impact on the market for the original image (e.g. a lower resolution, or a cropped version), and you must credit the rights-holder.

In 2014, European courts ruled that linking to third party material does not necessarily infringe copyright.  To incorporate a digital image into your own website, consider whether you can embed a link rather than copying it.

Using images for teaching and assessment

Third-party copyright images which are integral to your teaching - or completing an assessment, including a thesis - may be legally defensible as "Illustration for Instruction".  

Typical scenarios in which you might be able to reproduce an image without the rights-holder's permission:

  • utilizing a figure from a textbook in a course handout
  • taking a screenshot of a website for an assignment
  • sharing an image file with classmates for a group project
  • projecting an artwork for discussion in a lecture (NB. if the lecture is being recorded, consider how widely the recording will be distributed).

attribute your source fully, and that your material is not shared outside the classroom (physical or virtual), or with anyone other than the markers in the case of assessed work.

Be aware that even your own photos of artworks and panoramas may not be risk-free: although an artist's copyright may have expired (usually 70 years after their death), the gallery may have a 'no photographs' policy which doesn't exempt educational use.  Or the country where you took the photo may impose legal restrictions on the reproduction of artworks, buildings and interiors (including France, Italy and Greece).

  • See the Study & research tab for further information about reproducing other people's material in coursework, including theses and dissertations.

  • See the Teaching tab for further information about copying scholarly publications for the classroom.

Recommended sources of images

Many searchable image libraries allow you to filter results by licence status: for instance CC-0 (in the public domain, no attribution required), CC-BY (free to re-use with attribution) or CC-BY-NC (free to re-use in a non-commercial context).

A brief guide to the best sites for finding freely available images online (from University of York liaison librarian Ned Potter, 2013).


Antonella da Messina 'Portrait of a Man'. About 1475-6.  National Gallery NG1141.  CC BY-NC-ND

Check out the University Library's guide to Video, Image & Sound resources  for Dundee students and staff:

  • A directory of image collections the Library subscribes to, which are cleared for educational use
  • Freely available images of artworks.  Check that your intended use is covered by the terms and conditions in each case.


Antonella da Messina 'Portrait of a Man'. About 1475-6.  National Gallery NG1141.


A source to treat with caution:


Getty Images: Embed our images

Getty provides a tool which enables you to embed rather than copy their images, free of charge, for use in material "relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest".  The Terms of Use warn that "availability may change without notice", and Getty reserves the right to place advertisements or monetise your material, as well as collecting data about its use.

Be aware that Getty actively pursue unlicensed copying of their images and will invoice the website owner.  US legal practitioner Steve Schlackman has shared some Tips for Responding to a Getty Images Extortion Letter (Art Law Journal, 2014).

Further help

The UK's Intellectual Property Office has published a Copyright Notice (2014, pdf) for a general audience, providing advice about reproducing digital images and photographs, and protecting your own images.

5 ways to find images for your website:  an article from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2014), reviewing good practice and recommended sources.