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Copyright, Fair Use, & Image Resources

Guidance on copyright and fair use of copyrighted materials

Copyright & Creative Commons Primer


Unless images are in the Public Domain, they are protected by copyright laws. In general, it is illegal to use, modify, or distribute copyrighted materials without the creator's permission- even with attribution.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses allow content creators to grant permission for others to use their work for free. If an image has a Creative Commons license you can use it without contacting the originator, provided your purpose falls within any license restrictions. There are several levels of Creative Commons licenses, but all require attributing the content creator.

Fair Use

The US Copyright Office defines fair use as "a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances." Teaching, scholarship, and research are some of these special circumstances, and use of copyrighted materials for non-profit educational purposes often (but not always) falls under fair use. It can be difficult to determine where the line between fair use and infringement falls, but suggests four things to consider when deciding if your intended use is "fair:"

Purpose of use
  • Non-profit, educational purposes often fall under fair use, but all four factors must be considered before determining fair use.
  • "Transformative" uses are more likely to fall under fair use.
Nature of the original work
  • Factual works (graphs, figures) are more likely to support fair use than more creative or imaginative works (art).
Amount of the work used
  • Use of smaller portions of a work are more likely to be fair use than using the entire work.
Effect of the use on the work's market or value
  • Will the use make it more difficult to sell or lower the value of the original?

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