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Finding/Using Images at Duke

Quality, Scholarly Images for Research, Publication; Scanning Recommendations and Copyright

Image Copyright

This page assumes you have an image. If the copyright to your image is unclear or not grantable, see the Getting Started page.

CORE TOOL! see Duke Scholarly Communication page (with blog and FAQs!

Fair Use - Most academic use of images fall under the famous “fair use” clause. Basically, fair use allows academics to use copyrighted materials a single time to a limited audience without securing the permission of the copyright holder. Fair use is one of the most frequently contested copyright instances, however. Use the resources below to determine if your use counts as fair use.

Use this flowchart to determine if your use is Fair Use

More resources

Artwork specific

      Tip: Keep in mind, if your image is out of copyright already, you do not need to worry about fair use.

The Law - Image copyright is particular to each country.  You’re bound to the copyright of the country where the image was made or where the copyright holder resides.  In the US, image copyright falls under Title 17 (1909) variously revised 1973, 2011 and most recently 2014, known as the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-200). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) revised the law for electronic images. However, most accepted practice is based on legal precedent, not law. So, rather than citing law, copyright decisions are frequently determined by an important legal case.  

Keep in mind that many institutions and individuals claim copyright on material they don’t have rights to or which is out of copyright altogether.  For example, see the Highsmith case. While their assertions should be considered, their claims should also be personally examined!

Get Permission for What You Use!

License for Image Use Form - The University's form for getting permission to use an image/video.


Basic intellectual property rules for images

With the usual legal caveat that every case is unique, there are basic intellectual property use rules for academic images users in the US.

  • Any image created by a person dead more than 70 years ago is likely in the public domain (note that for three-dimensional works photographed, the photographer can claim a separate copyright).
  • Images appearing in books printed before 1923 are copyright free (for that particular published image).
  • Any image, regardless of copyright, can be copied (once) and used personally in a non-distributive form for personal scholarship/study.

Something to keep in mind . . .

  • US intellectual property rights revolve around remunerative ability.  If your use of an image does not impair the copyright holder from selling copies of the image further, you have a situation that litigation would not likely award damages.


Citing Images

Regardless of whether your image is under copyright, it is ethical to provide basic information on your image, not matter how famous.  Copyrighted images will state who and what to acknowledge;  non-copyright protected images still should give the artist, standard title (if one), and location:

  • For Example:  Michelangelo.  Creation of Adam.  Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum.