Images of artifacts found on the Internet, in a database, or in printed books might be protected by copyright and should not be reproduced indiscriminately even if the originals that are depicted are clearly in the public domain (e.g., a 15th-century painting or a 17th-century printing of a poem). Copyright of the images might be owned by the repository that hired the photographer (depending on the degree of originality), and professional courtesy may require that reproduction rights be requested in any case. Museums and other repositories of unique artifacts typically set special conditions for the reproduction of images of the objects they own. These repositories have an interest in assuring that copyright (if any) is respected, reproductions are faithful, and objects are accurately described. In addition, reproduction fees often provide a source of revenue.
Researchers who wish to publish an image of an object from a museum, archive, or library should request permission from the repository. (See a sample letter) Although guidelines vary from one repository to another, they usually specify how details or close-ups from the original may be handled, what kinds of changes in the image or its color are permitted, and how the item should be cited.
Copyright protects original “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works,” which include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art. The following is a list of examples of such works:
At least three forms of rights might apply to artifacts and works of art.
Locating the owner of copyright or other reproduction rights – whether textual or visual – is not always straightforward. Researchers who need an image of an artifact or artwork to illustrate a publication or public lecture should start with the repository that owns the object. Other resources for locating rights holders include:
If you choose to register a claim in your work, package together the following materials in the same envelope to the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20559-6000:
Acquisition of visual resources falls into three categories: purchase and license, donation, and copystand photography.
To the extent that such information is available, it is recommended that all images acquired for the permanent archive of an educational institution should be identified with the following:
While the traditional means of display for such image archives have been through projection, or otherwise viewing the physical surrogate (photograph, slide, video, film), the introduction of new technologies, specifically the digital environment of the Internet has expanded the display options. There is little in the way of legal precedent, code, or case law which addresses the issues particular to educational image archives. However, it seems reasonable to expect that digital materials should be available to the same user group that the analog collection serves, for the same purposes.
Analog materials acquired as outlined above may be used in digital format as follows:
Below are links to various online image databases and collections, many of which contain free images. Note, that some of these collections may contain images that require payment to use. This will be clear on their site, if this is the case. In addition to the list below, you may use images posted on any federal government website or publication free of charge at any time.
I often use Google to find images for projects. Can I use any pictures that show up? Are they
When you search for an image on Google, the results that appear reference images on websites (which reside on individual websites, and not part of any Google image collection). The images identified by the Google Image Search service may be protected by copyrights, and you must assume that it is. Although you can locate and access the images through Google, they cannot grant you any rights to use them for any purpose other than viewing them on the web. Accordingly, if you would like to use any images you have found through Google, you must contact the site owner to obtain the requisite permissions.
When is it OK to Use Images from the Internet?
searching the Internet, you should always assume that any image you come across
is copyrighted, unless stated otherwise underneath the image or on the web
site. Most web sites provide detailed information and guidelines for the
use of images contained on the site. If an image is labeled as being in
the "public domain" then it is available for public use. Many
websites also allow use of images for non-commercial or educational purposes
only. It is your responsibility to follow the guidelines for use of
images from individual web sites.
How do I know if an image I find on the web is copyrighted?
What do I do if I can't find the original owner of an image (or they do not respond to my requests)?
Unfortunately, if you have determined that the image is still under copyright, you must either get permission to use the image or try to fit your use under the “fair use” exception to the Copyright Act. Copyright owners are allowed to be stingy and even rude about granting permissions—if you need permission, you have to get it. Because copyright in a work survives the author, the author might even be dead by the time you want to use the work. Sometimes, the author's estate will set up a mechanism to grant permissions and collect royalties, so be sure to check for that, as well.
Do I have to delete old presentations that I made before I knew about these guidelines?
If your old presentations contain any copyrighted images or other works and your use of them infringes on the copyrights (that is, your use is not “fair”), then you may not continue to publish, distribute, display or otherwise use it in an infringing way. You might not need to delete it, but you can't use it very effectively either. Your ignorance of the copyright or of the law in this case does not excuse the infringing use, but it might reduce the penalties a court could assess against you. If you have such a presentation that you wish to continue using, consider obtaining the needed permissions now.
What if I need something for lecture in 24 hours and I don't have time to get permission to use an image?
True emergencies can sometimes excuse a use that would otherwise be deemed an infringement. This emergency use, though, is premised on the inability or impracticality of obtaining permission in time for the intended use. Of course, once the emergency has subsided, you cannot continue to use the work in an infringing manner. If permission is required to use the work, you will need to obtain it to use the work again.
Is the image you wish to digitize readily available online or for sale or license at a fair price?