Copyright and using images


Images and copyright

Under UK copyright law images are classed as ‘artistic works’, irrespective of artistic merit. Images include photographs, paintings, drawings, diagrams, maps, charts or plans. As with other works, there is no need to assert copyright for images since copyright automatically applies when an original image is created. Copyright infringement can occur when part or the whole of the image is used without permission or is used beyond the scope of a licence, copyright exception, or permission.

Using images from books, journals, magazines, law reports or conference proceedings

Works covered by our CLA licence

If the library owns a copy of the work and it is covered by our CLA licence, then it is possible to make a copy of an image (including book covers) for teaching and research purposes without any further checking, the requirement being that you acknowledge the authors of the work via normal academic citation. You can copy a whole-page visual image, or disembed the image from the page (i.e. extract a part-page visual image from a page that may also include text and other images). You can use the image within King's VLE as it is restricted access.

The easiest way to check if a work is covered by our CLA licence is to enter a book’s ISBN or journal’s ISSN in the CLA's permissions checker:

Works not covered by our CLA licence

If the work is not covered by our CLA licence, or the library does not own a copy, then copying the image becomes more problematic. There are two ‘exceptions’ which you might be able to apply, provided the image is not a photograph. These rely on ‘fair dealing’, so there is an element of risk. You need to take into account the type of image, how it is going to be used and the likelihood that the rights holder might seek recompense, or take legal action.

If the image does not have copyright symbols or credits attached and there are no credits for the image elsewhere in the work, then you may be able to consider it as part of the whole work. The exception for teaching and education allows you to use the image for teaching purposes and covers using the image within a VLE (as it is restricted access). The exception for research allows you to use the image in a printed thesis, or essay, as both are considered unpublished works. To minimise risk, use the smallest part of the image possible and acknowledge the source. If the work has copyright symbols or credits attached, it could be considered a work in its own right, in which case you should seek permission from the rights holder. Always seek permission for photographs.

Usage not covered by the CLA licence or exceptions

If you wish to copy an image from a work and use it for commercial purposes, or display it on external web pages, then you should always seek permission from the rights holder. This type of use is not covered by the CLA licence or the exceptions listed above. If you are using an image for a thesis, which will be made available electronically and is therefore considered published, see further information on copyright for theses.

Using images found on the internet

Just because an image is available online does not mean that it is free to use. An uncredited image may still be copyright protected. The person responsible for uploading the image may not have realised that the image was copyright protected or that they needed permission to reuse it. 

  • Always check the licence terms of an image and if unclear seek permission before using
  • Do not alter the image unless you have permission to do so
  • Always acknowledge the creator and source of an image 

Using images found via Google

  • If you use the basic search function on Google Images the images returned will include anything that relates to your search terms irrespective of their copyright status
  • From the Google Images Advanced Search option you can select a ‘usage rights’ filter which will return images identified for use in particular ways:
    • Not filtered by licence
    • Labelled for reuse
    • Labelled for commercial reuse
    • Labelled for reuse with modification
    • Labelled for commercial reuse with modification
  • However, it is possible that people who have assigned a filter option to a particular image or set of images are not necessarily the owners of the copyright.
  • You need to employ care before using images returned from a Google Image search.

Sourcing images

The following sites offer images and other resources that are available for certain uses depending on the licence terms specified. Always read the terms of use or licence restrictions for any file you consider using. 

  • Everystockphoto - Searches across several free-to-use image sites (including Flickr's Creative Commons images)
  • Flickr-Creative Commons advanced search - Use Flickr's advanced search page to include only photos (or short video clips) that have a Creative Commons licence
  • Flickr-The Commons - A number of publicly-held photographic collections from around the world use Flickr to share images that have no known copyright restrictions
  • JISC MediaPlus - A multimedia platform offering a wealth of digital image, video and audio collections
  • King’s image library - This is the central repository for images, artwork and videos that the university owns, produces or commissions
  • MorgueFile - Over 200,000 images that can be used commercially
  • OpenPhoto - Creative Commons-licensed images divided into various categories
  • Pixabay - Contains free to use photos and images
  • FreeImages (formerly stock.xchn) - A subsidiary of Getty Images, around 400,000 images submitted by a large community of users
  • Wikimedia Commons - A collection of over 6 million free-to-use images, sounds and video files to which anyone can contribute.

Clearing copyright – sourcing and obtaining permission

  • If an image is uncredited, using a reverse image search engine such as Google Image or TinEye can sometimes help you find the source of the image. Another option is to contact the web site owner to find out where they sourced the image from.
  • Check whether the copyright owner allows “blanket" permission for your intended use. e.g. it’s free to use by educational institutions.
  • If not, identify and contact the owner and ask for permission for the intended usage of the images.
    • Wait for a response. Be aware that rights owners are under no obligation to respond. Lack of response cannot be taken as consent
    • When the copyright owner responds, consider whether their terms are acceptable. Negotiate if appropriate, and decide whether to go ahead with the planned use of the images.
    • Get permission in writing, and save this where others can find it.

Acknowledging copyright ownership

  • You should always acknowledge the original owner of an image or other type of work when you use it. This is good practice, even if not strictly required.
  • If you have obtained formal permission to use an image or work under terms and conditions stipulated by the copyright owner, these may detail the precise credit line you should include with the image. For other cases here are some sample captions:
  • For an individual image: 

‘Photo courtesy of [photographer’s or company’s name, linking to their website or email address as appropriate]’ 


‘Credit: [photographer’s or company’s name, linking to their website or email address as appropriate]’

  • On a page where a number of images needing copyright acknowledgement appear:

‘Photography supplied courtesy of [list of photographers/company names, linking to their websites or email addresses]’

Asserting copyright in our institutions’ own images

  • Copyright information (also called copyright metadata) is a vital component in managing your image collection as well as reducing the risk of third parties using your images in inappropriate ways.
  • At a minimum the copyright information should include information about the copyright owner (i.e. the institution) and the contact details for a member of staff responsible for image copyright advice.
  • The copyright information might also include guidance on how a third party might use the images along the lines of Creative Commons, or it might instruct anyone wishing to use an image for any purposes to contact the institution before doing so.
  • It is possible to put copyright information in a number of ‘places'. This should ensure that the information remains robust, easy to find and manage.
  • Perhaps the most obvious place to put the copyright information is within the header of the image file. This is a relatively straight forward procedure. If you open an image or set of images in a software packages such as Photoshop Bridge or Lightroom then you are able to directly add copyright information into the header of the image file itself.
  • As the copyright information is likely to be the same for each of the images you are able to undertake this activity as a batch process thereby reducing the amount of time you need to spend inputting the information.
  • Inputting copyright information into the header of the image file also means that when you send an individual or an institution a number of images then the copyright information will be contained with the images.
  • Once the information has been included into the header of the file then you will be able to export that information into a separate database. The value of doing this is that should you lose the image file (which includes the copyright information) you would still have a record of the copyright information (and other metadata) contained in your database.
  • When you provide access to your images via a website you should ensure that you include a clear copyright statement and the contact details for your institution.
  • Last Updated Aug 24, 2022
  • Views 3832
  • Answered By Pete Garner

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