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Copyright and Images

Does copyright cover photographs and other images?

Copyright legislation classes as an Artistic Work:

  • photographs
  • graphic work, e.g.:
    • drawings and paintings
    • diagrams
    • maps, charts and plans
    • a typeface
  • sculpture
  • architecture

Copyright protects such works regardless of artistic merit. Images of artistic works may have further protection in that copyright may apply both to the original work and to the photograph itself.

Can I use an image under Fair Dealing?

Fair Dealing for private study or research for a non-commercial purpose is permitted if there will be no financial impact on the rights-holder, but only allows for a single copy to be made.

Although the Fair Dealing exception applies to all types of copyright works, copying a photograph would only be allowed under this exception in exceptional circumstances.

It would not be considered Fair Dealing if the proposed use of a copyright photograph would conflict with the copyright owner’s normal exploitation of his/her work.  For example, a photographer’s ability to sell or license copies of his/her photographs for inclusion in newspapers, for example, would be considered ‘normal exploitation.’

How about using images in teaching?

CDPA s.32 (Illustration for Instruction) now (since June 2014) permits the use of copyright images to illustrate a teaching point.  The exception is subject to Fair Dealing, so copying is limited to what is required for the purpose and must not impact on the rights holder.

Using a copyright image to illustrate a teaching point would not normally represent a conflict with the copyright owner’s normal exploitation of his/her work.

Copying may be done by using digital technology such as interactive whiteboards, and must be done by a person giving or receiving instruction.  The provision is not limited to educational establishments, but the use must be for a non-commercial purpose.

The image must be sufficiently acknowledged.

What if it's already in the public domain?

An image or other work is only considered to be in the 'public domain' if the legal term of copyright has expired, regardless of whether or not it has been widely published on the internet. Copyright in an artistic work generally lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.

As noted above, a photograph of an artistic work may still be subject to copyright even when the original work has ceased to be protected. Different rules can apply depending on the age of the photograph and whether it was published. Please contact the Copyright Officer for further advice.

How can I find copyright-cleared images?

Some websites and image archives may provide images with permission already granted for use in certain situations, for instance for private study. Please note that even an image collection which is 'copyright-cleared' or 'copyright-free' may prohibit use of the images for some purposes, such as commercial use, and it may also be forbidden to crop or edit the image in any way.

Educational image archives

The Library has subscriptions to the image databases ARTstor and SCRAN which allow their images to be used for teaching purposes.  Other Library databases which contain images may impose restrictions on how such content is re-used.

Creative Commons

Although it is tempting to think of the internet as a free-for-all, the reality is that everything published on the web is likely to be protected by copyright. However, some rights-holders choose to share images with some rights reserved or even waive all rights. This method of sharing images and other web content is being formalised by the Creative Commons licence, which is now in use in many countries including the UK, USA, Australia and many European countries.

If a rightsholder has made his or her work available under the Creative Commons licence, you are free to use it without seeking permission. The Creative Commons licence comes in a number of variations to protect different rights, and it is important to check that your intended use will not infringe any of these. All Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute the author/creator. Further restrictions may include no commercial use (i.e. for profit), no modification of the work, and a requirement that you 'share alike' by making your derivative work available under similar licence terms.

The Creative Commons licences are explained with FAQ and videos on the Creative Commons website. It is possible to search for web content which has been made available under Creative Commons using the site's Search feature, which currently includes Google, Yahoo, Flickr (image search), (video search), OWL (music search) and SpinXpress (media search). Flickr also has its own Creative Commons search page, where you can search according to the specific type of licence, for example those requiring Attribution only, or Attribution-Non Commericial use.

Other digital image sources

A number of websites offer 'copyright-cleared', 'copyright-free' or 'royalty-free' photographs, clip art or other content to web users. You may need to register for some of these, and should always check the terms and conditions to ensure your use of the image is legal. In all cases, full acknowledgement of your source is required and the source site may have specific instructions as to how this should be done.

If you are looking for Fine Art images in particular, you might like to visit Artcyclodepia where images are clearly marked when available for educational or for personal use. WorldImages has a collection of over 60,000 images which are available for non-commercial educational use.

Other general image sites include morgueFile, FreeImages, fotolia and Please note that the University of St Andrews does not endorse any particular site and cannot be held responsible either for the content of such sites or for the consequences of use.

How about my own photos?

In the UK, it is normally acceptable to take photographs of buildings and publicly-displayed works of art. (Please note that this may not be the case in other countries).  Museums and galleries may restrict or forbid photography, and you may need to obtain a licence to use their own photographs of works in their collections.

How do I go about seeking permission?

In all other cases, it should be assumed that a photograph or other image is protected by copyright and written permission should be sought. In making your request it is advisable to state your intended use of the image clearly, saying for example that it is for educational and non-commercial use.

If using any image that is not your own for a work which will be published electronically or in print, it is particularly important to obtain permission in order to avoid potential infringement claims. Your publisher may have supplied you with an example letter for obtaining permission from the rightsholder, or you may wish to use the permissions letters here as a starting point.
Full acknowledgement must be given with any reproduction of a copyright-protected work. Additionally, the image should not be altered in any way without explicit permission to do so, as this may be interpreted as derogatory treatment and would infringe the rights holder's moral rights.


 August 2017