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Finding Images: Understanding copyright

Information on finding images in library databases and the open web, and finding Copyright Free and Creative Commons licensed images.

How can we use copyrighted images?

Did you know that it is illegal to take other creators' works and post them online (e.g. on social media or a website) if they haven't given you their permission?

This is because most images are protected under copyright, which means the creator has the exclusive right to copy, adapt, publish and reproduce the image in print or anywhere online. (Learn more about Copyright.)

There is a copyright exception in Australia called ‘fair dealing’ which allows “fair and reasonable use” of copyrighted material for:

  • research and study, 
  • criticism or review, 
  • parody or satire, and 
  • news reports. 

The main consideration is how much you copy; e.g. it’s fair to photocopy a book chapter, but not the whole book.

*If you use any of your work outside of research/study, such as in a publication, exhibition, social media or putting it online, you won’t be covered by that particular ‘fair dealing’ exception anymore. 

Creative Commons licensing

Using Creative Commons (CC) and copyright-free images is one way to avoid infringing on others' intellectual property rights.

Creative Commons (CC) licensing is a way for creators to give permission for using their copyrighted work. It's flexible and open, allowing different levels of control. 

  • There are different types of CC licences to choose from, each with its own rules for sharing, adapting and using content.
  • These licences are used widely for various creative projects, like images and music. 
  • If you can’t find a CC licence on an image, assume standard copyright protections apply.

How to use images appropriately

  1. Assume all the images you want to use are in copyright (exception: the creator died more than 70 years ago).

  2. If you are using the image in class or private study, you can rely on the ‘fair dealing’ copyright exception.

  3. For everything else, like putting the image online or using it for social media or publishing it in any way, you should be:

    • Linking to the image not replicating it; or

    • Using appropriately licensed Creative Commons images; or

    • Getting permission to use the image.

  4. Properly acknowledge/cite the images that you use no matter what licence they are under.