Copying images from the internet

Contrary to popular belief, not all material on the internet can be freely copied. This means if you simply copy an image from Google and republish that image without first checking that copying or sharing is permitted, you could face a demand for payment from the copyright owner asking for fees for the use of the work or in the worst case scenario, legal action for copyright infringement.

Works on websites are protected by copyright. Some websites allow the content on their sites to be used – look for the Creative Commons sign (CC), for example you can search the web for images made available under Creative Commons licence.

There are six main Creative Commons licence types. Some licences only require that the you attribute the copyright owners, others specify that anything that incorporates the work must be shared under the same terms and conditions, or that the use must be non-commercial. More information about Creative Commons licences

A useful resource for finding out whether or not you are free to use that image you found on the Internet can be found on the Your Digital Presence website.

How to find images on the web and links to image databases

Using images other than for teaching in the classroom

  1. Departmental presentation or conference
  2. Presentation outside the University
  3. Student thesis or dissertation
  4. Openly licensed or public domain images
  5. Identify and reference an image

1. A departmental presentation or conference

Copying an image from the internet for a departmental presentation or a University of Auckland conference is permitted. However, the entitlement does not extend beyond our institution. A recording of the presentation either in the form of a power point presentation or recorded lecture cannot be made publicly available or distributed to participants outside the University unless you have the permission of the rights owner.

2. Presentation outside the University

There is no exception in the Copyright Act, or provision in our licences, which would permit the copying of an image for a presentation outside the University unless you were critiquing or reviewing a work.

There is a provision in the Act which permits copying for the purposes of criticism and review, but you would need to use the images to support your criticism or review of a work, not just use them to make your display more compelling. If you were critiquing or reviewing the image, theoretically you can include them in a post conference publication. The courts have said that if the use under this section conflicts with the owner's exploitation of the image then it will be a breach of copyright. The owner could still challenge your use so you need to keep in the back of your mind whether or not the owner would have any reason to challenge your use of the images.  

3. Student thesis or dissertation

While it is permitted to include another person's copyright protected work, such as a diagram or image, in a student thesis for the purposes of examination, this exception does not apply if the thesis is published or communicated outside the University. If the thesis is to be deposited into ResearchSpace it becomes a commercial publication because it has been posted on the internet and made available to the public. Prior written permission must be obtained from the copyright owners to allow the thesis to be made publicly available.

More information on copyright as it relates to these and dissertations can be found at Copyright for staff and students.

4. Openly licensed or public domain images

Many images on the internet may be offered under an open access licence, such as a Creative Commons licence, and others will be in the public domain, i.e. copyright has expired or they have never been protected by copyright. This means you will be able to use the images freely, without having to seek permission from the copyright owner. If you Google “open access images” you will come up with a whole list of websites offering images. They usually require that the use is “noncommercial” and the work is fully attributed.

The Useful links page has a full list of webpages where open access images can be found online.

5. Identify and reference an image

This resource provides information about: 

  • How to identify images from the internet using Creative Commons
  • How to reference images appropriately

Reproduced with permission of Tanisha Jowsey from the University of Auckland, Centre for Medical and Health Sciences Education.