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Copyright and Fair Use: Using Images

Resources to help with questions of copyright and fair use in an academic setting.

Using Database Images

The Library provides Belmont faculty and students with access to a number of great image repositories, including the images available in Artstor. These images are high resolution and free for use by anyone with a MyBelmont username and password and access to Library electronic materials.

However, use of these database images are subject to license terms and conditions that limit how you may reuse the material. While you are free to view images on the database and even download them for your own study in many cases, you are not permitted to post database images to public websites, including your own personal websites. Doing so is a violation of the user terms of the database.

If you wish to use any images you find in your own scholarship, such as a thesis, dissertation, or article, you will need to contact the database owner for permission to republish the images. 

Finding Images You Can Legally Use


Here are several excellent sources for images in the public domain and creative commons-licensed content:

Creative Commons Search - Allows you to search for CC-licensed material by media type

College Art Association Image Sources - Links to free, restricted and unrestricted, image banks.

Flickr Advanced Search - Choose “Only search within Creative Commons-Licensed Content.”

Google Advanced Image Search - Use the “Usage Rights” field to limit by license type.

Library of Congress: American Memory - A free “digital record of American history and creativity.”

Library of Congress: Prints & Photographs Online Catalog - Photographs, prints, drawings, posters, and architectural drawings, and more.

NGA Images - Public domain artworks from the collections of the National Gallery of Art.

Noun Project - Free clip art images requiring creator credit.

NYPL Digital Gallery - Illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs, and more, from the New York Public Library.

US Government Photos & Images  Public domain images by topic.

Notable collections: NLM History of Medicine, US Fish & Wildlife Service National Digital Library, National Park Service Digital Image Archives, and Smithsonian Images.


Wellcome Images - All images are made available under Creative Commons licenses.

Wikimedia Commons - Browse or search for freely reusable images.

Wikipedia Public Domain Images - List of public domain image sources on the web.

Image credits: Public domain logo and Creative Commons logo

Copyright & Web Images

Images on the open web are subject to copyright law in the same manner as any other creative work; there is no guarantee that an image is legally available for re-use just because it is freely accessible on the web.

That said, there are many cases in which copyright law permits re-use:

1. The image is a public domain work. Generally, anything published in the U.S. before 1923 is in the public domain. For more info, check out the Peter Hirtle's Copyright Term and the Public Domain.

2. The image is available under a Creative Commons license. CC images are labeled as such. When using a CC image, be sure to provide proper attribution to the source.

3. The image is otherwise made available for re-use by the content provider. Some websites permit you to re-use their images on your own website, as long as certain conditions are met (e.g. noncommercial use only). In these cases, you can find out whether re-use is permitted by looking at the website’s Terms & Conditions.

4. The image is copyrighted, but re-use qualifies as Fair Use. In the context of using images on a website, you have a stronger Fair Use argument if you are directly commenting on or critiquing the image, or if you are using the image in a way that is transformative. 

  • Fair Use likely does not apply when images are being used solely to make a web page more visually interesting; the use of the image should serve some instructional or educational purpose.
  • Keep in mind that if an image is subject to a license agreement (such as images from library databases), it can only be used according to what the license allows, even if Fair Use would otherwise allow for re-use. See the box to the right on Using Database Images.
  • For more information, see Analyzing Fair Use.

5. You have permission from the copyright owner.

Image credit: The Internet by Mikael Altemark via

Crediting Images: Best Practices

It can be tricky to determine the creator of a web image. To make giving credit easy, look for images that give you enough information to attribute them.

At minimum, do your best to:
1. Link to back to the original work
2. Give credit to the image creator
3. Follow attribution instructions provided by the source  

Generic Image Credit Format:
Title by A. Creator, via source (CC License Type).

Image credit: Jack in Sink (again) by J. Smith, via (CC NC-BY 2.0).

Image credit: 13694 by A. Mills, via CDC.

Image credit: Mrs. Claire... by D. DeMarisco, via Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection.

If you need help...

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Lina Sheahan
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Lila D. Bunch Library
Text us: (615) 933-2799


This page was adapted from the Copyright Basics Guide from NYU, created by April Hathcock. Many thanks to her for allowing us to use her guide as a template.