You Can Use a Picture If: Guidelines for Image Copyrights

A couple years ago, I published a flowchart on image copyright best practices that followed the question, “Can I Use that Picture?” While that chart has been widely distributed and used in schools, libraries, and businesses across the country, I have since wondered if it might be clearer to simplify the chart even further.

At its most basic level, image usage can be boiled down to four main ideas: copyright, fair use, creative commons, and public domain. If you can wrap your head around around those four concepts, image copyright won’t seem so scary.

While the laws can be rather confusing (because they are intentionally written with a good deal of ambiguity in order to protect freedom of speech), at least knowing the basics will keep you out of a lawsuit.

The graphic below isn’t a comprehensive guide to image copyright, but it’s a great place to start.




5 thoughts on “You Can Use a Picture If: Guidelines for Image Copyrights

  • March 28, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Within the US, you can replace “is over 120 years old” with “was created before 1923”. Any copyrights from that period expired before the US started rewriting copyright law in the 1970s, and were not retroactively extended.

    • April 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Absolutely 🙂

  • April 13, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I also would like to use this image. Thank you for putting it together. Students today just assume that everything they see is usable because of their use of social media.


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