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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3.4 Finding images and copyright

During your studies you may want to draw upon images and incorporate these into your assignments. If you are unfamiliar with copyright and using images in your academic work, then work through the following section.

Activity 5 Images and copyright – checking assumptions

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

You are writing your assignment and you think that some images or diagrams will enhance your academic work. Should you be concerned about copyright? Consider whether you agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • If I find an image on the web, I am free to use it in my work.
  • I can use an image as long as it does not have the word ‘copyright’ or the copyright (©) symbol on it.


You will not be able to use an image you find on the internet unless you have explicit permission from the copyright owner of the image. The majority of images available online are fully copyright protected. Copyright protection is automatically given on any original work that has been created. It gives the owner legal protection against others using, copying or adapting their material without their permission, so just because you can access an image does not mean you can freely use it as you wish, but see Section 3.2, concerning ‘fair dealing’ exceptions.

An image does not necessarily have to have the copyright symbol or word on it for it to be protected by copyright. All images are protected by copyright. In order to copy, share, manipulate, reproduce or use an image, you will need to gain permission from the copyright owner, or make use of copyright cleared material. There are options available for finding copyright cleared materials for your work. This section will take a look at some of these.

Box 5 Copyright and images – frequently asked questions

  • Who owns copyright on an image?

    The creator of the image will typically be the copyright owner. However, copyright can change hands and it is important to determine who the legal copyright owner is before using any image. Copyright is a property right and like property it can be bought, sold or bequeathed to a new owner.

  • What happens if I do not check copyright?

    Using an image without obtaining permission from the copyright owner could result in (1) demand for payment from the copyright owner, (2) potential legal action from the copyright owner, (3) your academic work being rejected by your institution.

  • How do I find copyright cleared images on the web?

    There are a variety of ways to find copyright cleared images on the web. Images that are ‘copyright cleared’ can be used under varying licences and permissions. Some licences allow images to be used in educational work only. If you want to use images for any other purpose (i.e. commercial), you will need to obtain permission from the owner of the resource. You can use search engines, image databases or Creative Commons photo-sharing websites to find copyright cleared images on the web.