Copyright protects both print and digital images. With the digital environment it has become much more difficult to tell who owns copyright or license and even harder to track down a creator to ask permission.
In general, the following applies to images:
Just because you can save the image to your desktop does not mean that you have permission to use it. Generally, it is best practice to assume that most images that you come across even if they do not have the copyright symbol or language are copyrighted. There are places to find public domain and Creative Commons images. For more information, visit the Creative Commons website.
No matter the format, images are resources that should be used responsibly. Most databases and websites provide statements on copyrights and usage. Pay very careful attention to this information, as guidelines and usage varies from site to site. The courts have ruled that use of thumbnail images found on websites is considered “fair use” under copyright law. The reasoning behind this ruling is that shrinking the size of the image renders it undesirable for anyone to reproduce at a high quality level. For more information, see Kelly v. Arriba-Soft, 336 F.3d. 811 (9th Cir. 2003).
Archival collections contain a variety of materials from unpublished to published works. Just because an item has been given to the archive does not mean the archive can provide copyright permission.
Archival material is not exempt from copyright protection, even though in many cases it is unpublished. Unless otherwise designated, the rights of unpublished works reside with the author during his/her lifetime and with his/her heirs for 70 years after death. The gift or sale of collections does not implicitly transfer copyright to the archival repository. The period protecting copyright for unpublished anonymous works and works for hire is 120 years from the date of creation. Upon expiration of these time periods, unpublished works pass into the Public Domain.
Published works copyright varies based on when the work was published. Most works published before 1923 are in the public domain.
A photocopy of an entire work, or the majority of a work, cannot be placed on reserve. Please see the following resources to learn more about copyright, fair use, and library reserves:
If you are not sure if copyright information is needed, contact Susan Eason (512)448-5869 or firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
Copyright Crash Course
The Copyright Crash Course Online Tutorial, from the University of Texas Libraries, will help you learn about how ownership of copyrighted materials works, what is fair use, and how to use the Creative Commons licenses.
Know Your Copyrights (PDF)
This document, by the Association of Research Libraries, contains information and tips for faculty using works in their teaching.
U.S. Copyright Office
"The Office is proud to be part of a long tradition of providing expert and impartial leadership and advice on copyright law and policy to Congress, federal agencies, the courts, and the general public."
Digital Copyright Slider
Is it protected by copyright? Easy to use infographic by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy.
Copyright Clearance Center
"Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), the rights licensing experts, is a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including in- and out-of-print books, journals, newspapers, magazines, movies, television shows, images, blogs and ebooks."
Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use - Education World
A copyright guide aimed at K-12 teachers.
This resource, by the Center for Social Media at the School of Communication, American University, "creates tools for creators, teachers, and researchers to better use their fair use rights."
Copyright & Fair Use
This resource by the Stanford University Libraries "includes primary case law, statutes, regulations, as well as current feeds of newly filed copyright lawsuits, pending legislation, regulations, copyright office news, scholarly articles, blog and twitter feeds from practicing attorneys and law professors.
Its emphasis is on copyright issues especially relevant to the education and library community, including examples of fair use and policies. Useful copyright charts and tools are continually added to help users evaluate copyright status and best practices."