Using Images

I. Overview

Copyright Protection in Images

Copyright law protects images as stand-alone artistic works. As with all types of copyright-protected works, the right to reproduce an image resides with the copyright owner.  This may be the creator of the image or, in the case where a creator has assigned their ownership to someone else, the assignee. If you wish to use an image belonging to someone else, in most cases you will need to ask the owner’s permission.

There are cases where seeking permission to use an image is not necessary. For example, when you create your own original images you own copyright. You can also use images from the public domain, i.e., where the term of copyright protection is over. Permission to use images is sometimes made available under a licence or subscription, and images can be used under an exception in the Copyright Act. Where no licence, subscription or other agreement authorizes your use and when no exception applies, then permission from the copyright owner is required.

II. Using Images in the Classroom

Using Images in Classroom Presentations (U of A).

III.  Using Images in a Thesis

Graduate Student Resources

IV.  Finding Images

A. Identifying Images available for Free Use

Creating Your Own Original Images

When you create an original image, you own copyright and may use the image as you like. However, if you have previously published the image this may no longer be the case,as you may have transferred certain rights in  the image to the publisher under the terms of your publishing agreement.

Images no longer in Copyright - Public Domain

Copyright in a work is generally for a limited term. Once copyright has expired, the work becomes part of the public domain and may be used without permission or payment.. Work through the online Canadian Public Domain Flowchart to help determine if a work is still in copyright or if it has expired.

Images available under a Licence or Subscription

Any time you log in to access content, whether you personally subscribed to a resource or were granted access, the terms of use for the subscription define your responsibilities. Content owners may wish to restrict distribution of their work to ensure use is limited to their fee paying clientele, or a specific group of users. Review the terms of use for the relevant agreement prior to sharing the material with others or online.

University of Alberta Libraries Licences

The UAlberta Libraries has entered into numerous agreements with publishers and aggregators for access to published works in electronic form.

Information on finding image collections available via the UAlberta Libraries is located at and Ensure you read and abide by the terms of use that apply to the image collection you wish to use.

Personal Subscriptions and Restricted Access Collections

Content acquired via a personal subscription or accessed from a restricted-access source is usually intended for the subscriber’s personal use. Review the terms and conditions of your subscription for information on sharing content with others. You may have agreed to abide by the terms via a click-through agreement at the time you subscribed to the resource.

Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons’ and other open licenses give copyright owners a simple, standardized way to communication with users about how their intellectual property can be used.  As a result, a vast pool of digital content is made available for copying, distributing, editing, remixing and building upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law. See

B. Searching for Images on the Open Internet

Unless the site indicates otherwise, all material available online is subject to copyright under the Copyright Act.  One method that may be used to find reusable images is the Creative Commons’ search tool.

Another tool that may be used to find reusable images is Google’s search function.

  1. Open a Google Search box
  2. Enter a search term to describe the type of images you want to find
  3. Once the results are displayed, click on “Images” at the top of the screen
  4. Once the new page is displayed, select “Tools”
  5. Next, select the drop down menu titled “Usage Rights”
  6. Scroll down to select the option with the reuse rights you are looking for
  7. The results will now display only those images with the reuse rights you have selected
  8. Choose the image you wish to use
  9. Once you have made your selection, visit the web page for the image to view the terms of use associated with the image
  10. Remember to collect the information needed so that you can properly attribute and cite each image you use.

V. Copyright Exceptions

The Copyright Act grants creators of original images exclusive control over the images they create. However, the Copyright Act limits the rights of creators or rights-holders by allowing exceptions to their exclusive control so that members of the public may use the images for certain purposes in certain circumstances. Reproducing and re-using an image under such an exception in the Copyright Act does not infringe copyright, so there is no need to ask permission from or make payment to a copyright owner.

Fair Dealing

The Copyright Act allows an exception for the use of copyright material where the purpose is research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, or news reporting. Learning about fair dealing and planning ahead will help you understand this exception and explain how incorporating other people’s material in your work is necessary.  Additional information on fair dealing is available here.

Exceptions for Educational Institutions

Under an exception in the Copyright Act, an instructor may reproduce images for display in a classroom setting. This exception does not extend to sharing copies of the images with students. Additionally, works available through the internet may be reproduced, posted to eClass and displayed for UAlberta students for educational or training purposes.

VI. Seeking Permission

Where no licence, subscription or other agreement authorizes your use and when no exception applies, then permission from the copyright owner is required. Some sample permission letters are available here.

VII. Academic Citation and Copyright Notification

Acknowledgement of the author and publisher is required under most licences, direct permissions, or by law. Full academic citations and copyright notifications inform the recipient of the copy of the source of the material and of how it may be used.  For images available under a Creative Commons licence, the best practices for attribution are described here (Creative Commons - Best Practices for Attribution).

VIII. Questions? 

Any remaining questions about copyright and how it relates to the use of images can be sent to the University of Alberta Copyright Office help desk at .