Copyright law guarantees the creator of a work the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display and prepare derivative works. It also provides a number of limitations to those rights, including Fair Use.
Images, like sound recordings or performances, can have multiple copyrights attached to them. The photographer responsible for an image can hold a copyright, and any copyrighted works pictured in the photograph (underlying works) may add another layer of rights to the image. There are several notable exemptions:
Two dimensional visual works
Face-to-Face teaching (Section 110(1))
U.S. Copyright Law states that “performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction” is NOT copyright infringement (Section 110(1)).
The Visual Resources Association also supports the Fair Use of images in teaching with their Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts which articulates a number of principles relating to image use in an educational context. It states that "...the reproduction and use of images for teaching – whether in face-to-face teaching, non-synchronous teaching activities, or non-course related academic lectures – should be consistent with fair use." It goes on to suggest that a Fair Use argument may be bolstered by:
When using audiovisual works, including motion pictures, audio recordings, and images, the works must be lawfully made copies, and the instructor displaying the works must know the origin or have no reason to believe the copies were not lawfully made.
Image Use by Students
Use of copyrighted images for study, research and teaching in coursework is allowable using Fair Use. See Fair Use for Student Coursework for more information.
If you want to include the work of others in your thesis or dissertation, whether in the form of reproduced images or charts, music, long quotations, standard tests or computer software etc., you will need to evaluate whether simple attribution is sufficient, or if your intended use requires you to seek permission of the copyright holder. Certainly sources must always be credited to avoid plagiarism, but understand that crediting the source does not eliminate the obligation to seek permission when appropriate.
You do not need to seek permission if:
1. The work is in the public domain. Public domain works include those written before 1923, and some authored afterwards. Determining the copyright status can be tricky. For assistance see Cornell's regularly updated chart of PD works:
2. The material in question is openly licensed, such as under a Creative Commons license, or the author has otherwise explicitly granted permission; look for the CC symbol displayed on the work. Many sites and blogs are licensed this way. Investigate open access journals for research in your discipline.
3. You follow fair use guidelines:
Using images in scholarly publications definitely raises permissions concerns, and can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive. The following comprehensive resource from Georgetown University can help you to understand the issues and how to navigate them: