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Finding Images

What is Copyright?

The Internet has made it easy to find, download, modify, and re-upload an image. 

Have you thought that when you upload an image, you may have violated the legal rights associated with the image?

Many images are protected by copyright, which means that you may need permission from the creator or the rights-holder, or both, in order to use the image. 

Copyright law and image-use guidelines are not always clearly defined, and can be complicated. 

When you are using an image you found on the Internet, it’s always the best to make an attempt to identify the rights-holders, to be clear in your intended use.  For instance, is the image used in a presentation for a class assignment?  Is it an image to be used for your dissertation?  Think about how your intended use may impact a rights-holder, and to ask for permissions as needed for any work that is not unquestionably in the public domain. 


Can I use this image in my coursework and assignments?

Probably. The use of copyrighted images for educational purposes is often allowed under the Copyright Ordinance: Fair dealing for purposes of giving or receiving instruction.  Use of a copyrighted work for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research are not considered infringements if the use weighs favorably when considering four factors:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Generally speaking, using copyrighted images in a paper or other class assignment is considered a fair use.  However, if an assignment includes posting images on a publicly accessible website, that could be considered a publication (see below) and is more likely considered a copyright infringement.

In other words, fair use is not always clear and must be decided on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the four factors listed above.

Can I use this image on my website, blog or newsletter?

Probably not. The use of copyrighted images for commercial or publication purposes is usually not allowed under Fair Use. These may include the use of images:

  • in a publication, including newsletters, journals, newspapers, or magazines
  • on a website that anyone (not just those with a password) can see, including blogs, wikis, or social networking sites
  • on a product that is for sale
  • on promotional materials, such as pamphlets, ads, or posters

In these cases, permissions must be attained.

As stated in other portions of this guide: when in doubt, it is always best to investigate rights-holders and inquire if the nature or character of your intended use is permitted.


Adapted from Johns Hopkins University Library’s Finding Images Guide.

What is Creative Commons?

"Creative Commons (CC) is a copyright license that defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright (all rights reserved) and the public domain (no rights reserved)."  In other words, you are free to use images from the Creative Commons.  

Creative Commons Hong Kong works with Creative Commons International to localize and promote the use of Creative Commons licenses in Hong Kong.  They support the development and promotion of free tools that enable people to easily mark their creative work so that it can be shared legally by others.

Using Images Legally: A Crash Course

This Prezi includes useful information, such how to find, and use images illegally, as well as the difference between copyright and fair use.  

Fair Use: A Video Overview

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society and the Media Education Foundation present this entertaining 10-minute video by Bucknell University faculty member Eric Faden. It gives a quick overview of copyright and fair use, as spoken through the mouths of Disney characters.