Find and use others' images

Last changed: 12 August 2019

When you're using someones' image, table or diagram you must have permission from the author to use it, or using a free image. You can find free images with Creative Commons licenses on different web sites.

In academic writing you cite and refer to others' texts, and this is absolutely acceptable according to the rules of copyright, as long as you follow the formal conventions surrounding citations and references. But what are the rules for using others' images?

If you want to use someone's image, table or diagram you cannot simply reference the source from which you took the image - you are also required to ask for permission to use the image from the author before including an image in your work. Of course, you must also provide a clear reference for the source of the image. To obtain permission, you need to contact the author or publisher (the party that holds the economic rights to the work). Permission does not need to be provided in any specific way - it can be either by word of mouth or in writing. Keep this permission!

If you want to ask for permission to use a figure from a scientific publication you can usually find a link from the electronic version of the article that takes you to a form where you have to state your purpuse etc.

Find free images with Creative Commons

If you want to use others' images there's a good way to find images with a free license.
Creative Commons (CC) is an international organization with the goal of simplifying the legal use and distribution of creative material on the Internet. By using so-called Creative Commons licenses the author of a work can mark the web-based material in advance and clearly describe what others can do with his work. For instance, if you find an image online with a Creative Commons license that allows you to use and distribute the material (with specific conditions) it’s basically the same as getting permission to use an item without the need to actually contact the copyright holder. You can find Creative Commons materials through a number of search engines, for example see Creative Commons Search

Film: Find images, films and sound on the web (09:30)

Introduction to Creative Commons licenses and how to find free material on the web you can use.

Websites for finding free images and films

  • Artstor is a subscription service that you have access to as a student or employee at SLU. The database contains more than 2.5 million images. Many of the images come from museums and archives with large collections. You are allowed to use them for noncommercial educational and scholarly activities, for example in independent projects or theses. To download an image you need to create an account. There is a lot of information about each image, and a feature, "cite this item", that gives you suggestions on how to reference the image. Don't forget to double check that the reference follows SLU guidelines.
  • CC Search is a searchengine that allows openly licensed and public domain works to be find and used. CC Search searches across more than 300 million images. Currently the tool only searches images, but there are plans to add additional media in the future.
    Note that CC Search does not verify whether the images are properly CC licensed, so be sure to verify the license and attribution before using any image.
  • Flickr is a searchengine for photos where you can both upload your own and find other people's photos. You can choose to search for Creative Commons-licensed material and there is a great variety to choose from. A big advantage is that it is clear what the CC license for the photo is and it's a good search engine to begin your search with .
  • Google is a searchengine where you can choose the search option "Images" to search for Creative Commons-licensed material. Enter your search and then select "Search Tools". Under "Usage Rights" you can select the license you want for the image. Remember to check carefully where the images come from and that they are ok to use, because Google collects search results from different sites.
  • YouTube is a searchengine for videos where you can both upload your own and find other videos. Enter your search and then select under "Filters" the option "Creative Commons" - then you will get the videos that have received a Creative Commons license. Remember to still check carefully the clip, that it does not contain any material (eg music, video) that needs copyright.
  • Wikimedia Commons is a media library and database for free images, videos, music and audio files. It contains only materials with free license and above all the Creative Commons-licensed material. You can search both materials and upload your own material.
  • Pixabay and Pexels are websites where users can upload photos without copyright. At Pixabay you can also find videos to use. The material can be used free of charge and you do not have to specify a license. The license for all material on the websites is Creative Commons 0 ( CC0 ) which means that the creator does not need to be specified.
  • Unsplash is a website where users can upload photos without copyright. The material can be used freely and you do not have to specify a license. It is appreciated though that you refer to the name of the photographer and the title of the photo.

Websites for finding sound

  • Jamendo is a website with free music for personal use. Additional cost for public use.
  • dig.ccMixter is an archive with free music that have CC-licenses.
  • ccMixter is an archive with remixed music that have CC-licenses.

When you find an image (or other media) with a license that permitts you to use it, it is also important that you refer to the image correctly. The SLU University Library gives suggestions on how to refer to images according to the Harvard system.


Using CC licenses for your own material

When you create something, you can also apply a CC license to your work  - just make sure that you actually have the right to do so, for example, if the work in question has more than one author. Creative Commons’ website offers some good tips on things to think about before licensing your work!

Which license is right for your work? Swedish foundation .SE has a good guide to choosing, step-by-step, the right license conditions: Creative Commons – choose the right license (only in Swedish)!

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