Using Images

[Updated: 27 Jan 2022] 


What do we mean by an "Image"?

The word "image" covers many kinds of visual material that might be used by members of the U of A community, including: 

  • paintings, drawings, sketches, engravings
  • digital media/multimedia visual art
  • photographs, stills
  • charts, figures, tables
  • screenshots, screen scrapes
  • maps, surveys, land use plans, architectural drawings
  • logos, trademarks, ads
  • illustrations, cartoons, clipart-style graphics
  • book covers, magazine covers, comic book covers, CD covers, record sleeves
  • and more.

For an overview of how copyright applies to images, see the "Images" video module (~6 mins) in the Opening Up Copyright (OUC) series.

Copyright and Using 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. Review the Five Step Analysis for Using Copyright Protected Material to determine if and how you may use the work(s), and whether you will need to ask permission from the rights-holder. If you created your own original images, you would normally own the copyright.


Typical Uses of Images at the University of Alberta

Using Images for instructional purposes

  • Displaying Images in the Classroom

Under an exception in the Copyright Act,  an instructor may reproduce images for display in the classroom setting, unless those images are commercially available in a format suitable for that use. This exception does not extend to sharing copies of the images with students.

  • Posting Images in an LMS

There are more restrictions on posting an image to an LMS than there are to displaying an image in the classroom, because this tends to involve making a copy of the image available for download. Images that are in the public domain or that have been made available by the rights-holder under a supporting license can be shared with students on an LMS. Sharing other images may require additional considerations, including the applicability of fair dealing. Where feasible, linking to an image from its authorized online location, instead of copying and sharing the content, is considered best practice.

Using Images in a Thesis

Graduate theses are made available on the open web, and therefore any images reproduced within a graduate thesis will also be available on the open web. Thus, the terms of use of any licences applying to the images in the thesis will have to be reviewed, and in some cases permission to use the image may need to be sought.

Using Images in a Scholarly Publication

For images that are incorporated into a book or article for scholarly publication, the publisher will generally require assurances from the author that permission has been gained by the author for any copyright-protected material of another party that is reproduced within the book or article. This requirement will normally be included within a formal agreement between the author(s) and the publisher.  


Considerations when Using Images

If you want to use an image for which you do not hold the rights, consider the following:

Will you be posting the image to the open web?
There are organizations like PicRights and CopyTrack that seek out unauthorized use of images online on behalf of rights-holders. In light of these growing efforts toward the enforcement of copyright in images used online, it is important to take steps to ensure that your online use of images is appropriate.

Is the image protected by copyright? 
Once copyright has expired, the work becomes part of the public domain and may be used without permission or payment. The Canadian Public Domain Flowchart can help determine if a work is still protected by copyright or part of the public domain.

Does the image have a licence or terms of use that support the way you intend to use the image?
Content owners often make their images available via subscription services or open licences. Review the terms of use for the relevant agreement or licence prior to sharing the material with others or online.

There are many Free Online Resources for media that do not require you to seek permission to use images, such as Wikimedia Commons.

The University of Alberta Library has entered into numerous agreements with publishers and aggregators for access to images of artwork and photographs.

Is your use of the image allowable under an exception in the Copyright Act?
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 others may use the images for certain purposes in certain circumstances. Reproducing and re-using an image under an exception to infringement in the Copyright Act does not infringe copyright, so there is no need to ask permission from or make payment to a copyright owner.

Two exceptions that might be relevant to the use of images are:

  • Fair Dealing is an exception that allows for the use of images where the purpose is research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, or news reporting.  
  • Exceptions for Educational Institutions are exceptions that apply primarily to displaying images in the classroom.

Do you need to seek permission to use the image?
Where no licence, subscription or other agreement authorizes your use and when no exception applies, then permission from the copyright owner is required. The Copyright Office has sample permission letters available for you to use.


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


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