How to Use Images

Whenever you're tempted to use copyrighted images, ask yourself:

How important is this image for fulfilling the mission of your lesson?

  • If you believe the image would be a vital part of the lesson, make your best effort to contact the copyright holder for permission.
  • If you think you have a strong case for using an image under the Fair Use exceptions or the Teach Act, reflect on the risk-reward ratio in applying these remedies.

Remember, you want to use copyrighted image in such a way as to not end up in a lawsuit. Sure, you may prevail in court, but at what cost? You may win your case, but be seriously financially damaged, so think carefully before using copyrighted material without permission.

The best policy is: "When in doubt, link out!"

Frequently Asked Questions about Images

Does the Library or CLEAR subscribe to royalty-free images that instructors can use? CLEAR subscribes to royalty-free image repositories, and they're accessible to the CLEAR Production Department only. It's best to send images you find online as examples to your Instructional Consultant, and they'll pass them on to the Production Department for finding similar images in the repositories. I found an image on the Internet that I'd like to use in my online course. What are the rules for using it?

  • If the image is in the public domain or deemed free to use based on open access, use it.
  • If the image is licensed under a Creative Commons license or some other license, use it based on the terms of the license.
  • Or, determine whether you may use the image based on Fair Use.
  • Otherwise, seek permission or locate another image.

Am I safe if I link to an image rather than pasting it in my course?

  • In most cases, yes. In general, it's safer to link to an image rather than to paste it into courseware. When linking to an image, be sure it's to a reputable source. For example, if you link to an image of art, link to a reliable and valid site (e.g., the British Museum, not Gary's favorite art).

I need to find images for my course that I can use legally. What do I do?

  • Search in reliable and valid search venues, such as those we provide here in our resource Locate Usable Works. After you locate an image, read the terms of the license and follow the terms.

How do I search for and use an image I find on Flickr or Creative Commons?

  • Use the Creative Commons search feature, which searches for images on Flickr, Fotopedia, Open Clip Art Library, Google Images, Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons, and others. Then locate an image, read the terms of the license, and follow said terms. All images found on this search feature should have a CC license on them. Simply click on the license to read the terms and conditions.


May I use a thumbnail of an image as a link?

  • If your use qualifies as Fair Use, then yes. Further, if the image is labeled open access, is in the public domain, or is licensed for various use, then yes. Also, it is less risky to use text for links, but you may use a thumbnail if you meet one of the above-mentioned uses.

May I link to art that is displayed online?

  • Yes, but be sure you're linking to a valid and reliable site (e.g., the Getty, and not to Gary's favorite art).

How do I properly cite an image found on the web?

  • If an image is licensed with the 2013 4.0 suite of Creative Commons licenses, then all you have to do is link to a page that gives proper identification (e.g., a URL and, if available, creator).
  • If the image is licensed prior to November 2013 with the 3.0 suite or older versions of CC licenses, then to give proper attribution, you should include as much of the following information as possible: an accurate URL, creator, and title of work.
  • When citing an image licensed with other licenses or not licensed, listing as many of the following should suffice: URL, author, title.

How do I protect my own images once I put them online? Choose a Creative Commons license and place it on your work. Creative Commons has a license creator tool that is very easy to use and it enables creators to choose and place a license on their works. You may apply a license to many types of items such as textual material, music, images, art, PowerPoints, courseware, data, and more.

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