Skip to content

Which pictures I am allowed to use in my materials?

1. Use only appropriate pictures, which you have the right to use.

One of these must be true, for you to have the right to use a picture:

  1. You own the copyright to the picture: the picture is either your own work or you have purchased full rights to the picture.
  2. You have a separate, preferably written, permission to use the picture from its copyright owner; The permit usually specifies separately the permitted uses and how long you are allowed to use the picture in question.
  3. The picture has a license appropriate to your intended use, and you have found the picture from a trusted source so that you can use the picture without a fear for copyright infringement (i.e. the person who shared the picture, actually holds the copyright to the image).
  4. The picture is clearly marked as a non-copyrighted picture, and you have found it in a reliable source. The copyright owner has renounced their copyright, or the copyright has expired, or the copyright has never arisen.

If you can’t find a suitable ready-made picture that you have the right to use, you can take a picture or draw/make it yourself. Please note that published research results, theories, information, or topics are not protected by copyright, so you may cover them in your own pictures.

If you find a free picture made by or taken by someone else, please mention the source of the picture and the name of its maker, if possible. If the picture has a license, mention it as well. You could also attach a link to the place where you found the picture. Here are a few examples of how picture information could be marked:

Example figure 1:

An old black-and-white photo of a man wearing a safari outfit. He stands behind a film camera that is placed on top of a sturdy tripod. In the background, you can see the jungle. The location is high up, as there is a horizon far behind the jungle.

Frank Hurley shoots the film on Mt. Aird in Papua New Guinea around 1923. The person who took the picture is unknown. The image has no known copyrights. Source: Flickr, State Library of Queensland.

Example figure 2:

2. In addition to the license, you need to consider the subject and purpose of the picture.

The subject of the image must be legal and, if necessary, e. g. the subject of the picture must have given the photographer a permission to take the picture and use it for a specific purpose. Commercial use may impose additional requirements in using the picture: E. g.  the license may forbid commercial use of a picture, so then you must find a picture which license allows commercial use. Note also, that advertising should not be based on false information, so the pictures should not betray the viewer either. Here are some links to more information in Finnish about these topics:

Licenses make it easier to use pictures, and with them, you can also share your own pictures for others to use.

A common way to share pictures for others to use, is to use CC licenses: They are predefined types of general-purpose licenses that allow the copyright owner to easily make their pictures available to other peoples’ use, while narrowing down how the picture can be used. See About CC Licenses – Creative Commons.

The license can limit the permissions, for example, so that the picture may not be further modified, but must be used as such, or the license might say, that you are allowed to edit the picture, but if you then use it, the result must be shared further under the same license. CC licenses are well suited for pictures, but you can use them for any other kinds of digital materials too.

You can find CC-licensed images from various image services and even by filtering Google’s image search. You can find image banks eg. ilmaisia kuvapankkeja (free image banks) -From Digipedavinkki (in Finnish). If you have any doubts that e.g. The CC license issuer would not have had the copyright to the picture to begin with, and the CC license would not then be legal, you can try to search for the image, for example with Google Image Search, to see where the picture can be found and when it was first used.

In addition, there are non-copyrighted pictures (“public domain”, CC0) whose owner has voluntarily renounced the copyright of their picture, or the picture is already so old that its copyright has expired. In EU, an original and independent picture gets a copyright of 70 years from the death of the person who took/made the picture. In addition, ordinary photographs, which are not classified as original, have their own protection period, which is 50 years from the moment the photo was taken.

There are also pictures that are not considered original and are not copyrighted, if they are such, that anyone would end up with a similar image. That is, the image is “the result of completely mechanical work”, or it is made according to a ready-made model. In practice, these include, for example, various diagrams, chemical structural formulas, or, for example, a simple drawing describing the functioning of the digestive system.

See, e.g., statements of the Finnish Copyright Council (in Finnish):

Using an image as a citation

You don’t need a separate permission to cite a work, such as a copyrighted picture, as long as these three things are met:

  1. The work is legally published.
  2. You cite it in accordance with good practice.
  3. You cite it only to the extent necessary and justifiable.

Good practice means that you clearly mark the picture as a citation: Prominently highlight both the source of the picture and its author. A picture as a citation is justified when it illustrates the issue you are dealing with. A picture as a citation is not justified if the picture is used more for decoration or amusement purposes, than to illustrate the matter at hand. E. g. A funny comic strip that loosely fits the topic, cannot be placed into lecture slides based on the right to cite, while the very same comic could be used in another context that deals directly with that comic.

See, for example, the statements of the Finnish Copyright Councils (in Finnish):

This story has focused on pictures, but copyright naturally applies to other materials as well. If needed, you could familiarize yourself with copyright in EU. – E. g. copyrights related to videos are a world of its own!


« Back

This article was published in categories All instructions, Oamk , for Oamk staff, for Oamk students, for the University of Oulu staff, for the University of Oulu students, accessible content, UniOulu. Add the permalink to your favourites.