Copying images from the internet

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

Some websites allow the content on their sites to be used – look for the Creative Commons sign (CC).

There are six Creative Commons licence types. Some licences only require that 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.

A useful resource for finding out whether you may use an image you found on the internet is Your Digital Presence.

Using images other than for teaching in the classroom

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 PowerPoint presentation or recorded lecture may not be made publicly available or distributed to participants outside the University unless you have the permission of the rights owner.

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. For example, if you use so much of the work that you are reviewing that the reader did not need to buy the original work, then you could be breaching copyright.

The owner could still challenge your use so you need to keep in mind whether or not the owner would have any reason to challenge your use of the images.

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 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.

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 non-commercial and the work is fully attributed.

If the image you want to use is a photograph then you may use the DigitalNZ copyright status flowchart to determine whether or not the photograph you want to use is out of copyright. Photographs taken prior to 1944 are considered to be out of copyright.

Some government works are in the public domain for example, the US Government has images which are not protected by copyright and are free to copy and use. Sources include the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, National Institute of Health, and NASA.

University of Pennsylvania libraries has a useful website for finding US Government public domain images.

Identify and reference an image

Reproduced with permission of Tanisha Jowsey from the University of Auckland, Centre for Medical and Health Sciences Education. CC BY Creative Commons Licence Attribution 4.0 International

Finding and using open access images


  • OpenStreetMap uses open data and has a Creative Commons attribution share-alike licence.


  • GLAM (Galleries, libraries, archives, museums)



Databases of images licences for educational use