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Research Guides

Images: Ethical Use & Copyright

Guide to high-quality image databases and resources. Interdisciplinary image content, search strategies, evaluating images, & image citation guide.

Image Copyright and Ethical Use

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Digital images need to be used with an awareness of copyright and ethics. Most databases and web sites provide information about how their images can be used. It is important to comply with all usage guidelines, which can vary considerably.

The UW Libraries outlines some general do's and don'ts for electronic resources. Please see Responsible Use of Electronic Resources.

The UW Copyright Connection provides information about many aspects of copyright, including Compilations, Music and Images and Images of Art and People.

Appropriate Use of UW Resources is published by UW Information Technology and provides additional copyright information and guidelines for using electronic resources.

Fair Use and Public Domain

If a work is in the public domain, you can use it however you want. Usually, images are in the public domain because:

  1. They are old enough that the copyright term has expired
  2. The creator has voluntarily given up rights to their images.

If an image is not in the public domain, you may be able to use and cite it under the Fair Use Doctrine. This allows us to use images in certain situations, such as for criticism, comment, scholarship, or research.

Questions about using an image?

About Creative Commons

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Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that works "to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in “the commons” — the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing."

Creative Commons licenses provide a way for people to share their work and make it available for others to build on and reuse.

Check out the Creative Commons website for more information and details about CC licenses.