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Explaining aspects of copyright to be aware of when studying, lecturing or undertaking research. Please note that information on these pages is for guidance only: it does not constitute formal legal advice.

Images and Copyright

A graph showing the number of times certain subjects appear in a Flickr user's photo set

As with textual material, images are likely to be subject to copyright in their own right. This includes photographs, diagrams and other illustrations, whether from printed sources, or online sources like the Internet, online journals and databases.


However, there are sources of images that are free to use - see below (but they must normally be acknowledged, sometimes according to guidelines in the resource).


Using images from books and journals

Images found in books and journals can normally be re-used in your work (such as essays, dissertations, theses, and PowerPoint presentations), if they were created by the author(s) of the article or book. If you need to use several images from the same document, be mindful of Fair Dealing, which can restrict the amount you can re-use from any one published work.

If the images, diagrams or graphs were created by a photographer, an artist, or someone else, you will need to request permission. The author(s) of the article or book should have requested the permission of the copyright holder and referenced the source. You should be able to contact the creator. 

Creative Commons images are free to use according to the terms of the licence. The citation must include which licence was used, including a link to the licence (see Referencing CC licensed material). If an article is CC licensed, any re-used images within it, may still be subject to copyright. It should be made clear by the authors if this is the case.

Other copyrighted images

Images in newspapers, magazines  

  • Permission is always necessary. The rightsholder may be the photographer, the publisher, or a stock image library (such as Getty Images). 
  • Reproducing these images without permission constitutes a high risk of copyright infringement. 

Images of works of art 

  • Do not reproduce complete images of modern works of art that are still in copyright. This constitutes a high risk of copyright infringement. Link to a legitimate photo online or explain where the image can be found. 
    • If the works of art are out of copyright:  
      • If from a museum or gallery website the images must be credited. Guidance on how to do this will usually be given on the website. 
      • If taken by a photographer, the image must be credited, and the name of the artwork and the location provided. 
      • If taken by yourself, no photography credit is necessary, but you must observe the rules of the museum/gallery regarding photography. You should provide the name and location of the artwork, for the benefit of your audience. 

Orphan Works (Images where the creator is not known) 

  • Use a small reproduction of the image. This should decrease the risk of copyright infringement. 
  • Check if the rightsholder can be traced. See the Orphan Works diligent search guidance on the IPO website. If successful, you can contact them to request permission. If you cannot trace the rightsholder but you want to use the image, there may be some risk of copyright infringement. Keep evidence of your search to mitigate against the risk. You can purchase an Orphan Works licence from the UK government; this will indemnify you against any risk.

Sources of Free Images

The tables below contain details of resources that contain images which can be freely used under certain circumstances.

Remember that even if free to use, the images must be acknowledged (normally - there are a couple of exceptions below)

In addition the resources below are sources of free images:

This US resource also has useful information and details of other sources of images and other media: Copyright-Friendly Media

Flickr and Google

In the unlikely event you cannot find a suitable image using any of the resources on this page, then you could try using Flickr, but it is important that you choose an image with a licence that will allow you to re-use it in your own work.

To do this: perform a search for what you are looking for, then click on 'Any licence' (on the top left of the page) and choose a licence that will allow re-use according to the terms you require.

A similar facility is available with Google image searches: click 'Search tools' and then 'Usage rights'.

Where should I look for online images?

The following resources are image repositories where there is an automatic entitlement to re-use in particular circumstances. Exact terms of use vary but see further information below.

This box contains general resources, and the box below contains resources for Health Sciences.

Resource and description Full terms of use (where available) Permitted Not permitted
Creative Commons (CC) - type of licence which allows copyright holders to share their work. Various licences. Find an image and click on "some rights reserved" (bottom right) for terms which apply to it. See Creative Commons licences under "The Licenses" for full list of CC licences. Educational use, adding to secure network (e.g. VLE). Commercial use (usually), re-use on an unsecure network (e.g. free-to-access website).
Everystockphoto - an image search engine allowing access to photos from many sources. Terms vary. Click on the licence icon (below and to the left of every image) for further information. Terms vary Terms vary - download free and premium stock photos and illustrations for websites, advertising materials, newspapers, magazines, e-books, book covers and pages, music artwork, software applications, etc. FreeDigitalPhotos terms Any uses marked "standard licence" (see the terms) are permitted. Some images may be used free of charge, others are only available for purchase. Commercial use
Media Plus (use your City username and password to login) - resources from a wide range of collections.

About Media Plus


Educational use, adding to secure network (e.g. VLE). Commercial use, re-use on unsecure network (e.g. free-to-access website).
Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) - "a considerable portfolio of visual art collections comprising over 100,000 images that are freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK". Copyright Notice and Terms and Conditions Material may be duplicated by you for your research use or educational purposes in electronic or print form. Electronic or print copies may not be offered, whether for sale or otherwise to anyone who is not an authorised user.

Health Sciences

Resource and description URL for full terms of use (where available) Permitted Not permitted
Bassett Collection of Stereoscopic Images of Human Anatomy - Stanford School of Medicine database

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US)


Copying and redistribution in any medium or format; remix/transform/build upon the material (you must indicate when this has been done and distribute your contributions under the same license as the original). You must attribute Commercial use
Primal Pictures (log in via Library catalogue) - a collection of dynamic, interactive modules featuring three-dimensional anatomy models Anatomy TV terms and conditions Display on computer screen, print one copy for your own personal, non-commercial use Reproduction, modifying, copying, distribution other than specified opposite

Credit for image on this page

'Flickr Stat Graph' by Shareski (CC BY-NC 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015