Studio Art Resources: Copyright for Artists

A basic introduction to information resources for visual artists.

Using Other People's Work

There are many artists that appropriate other images as elements of their work.  You may also want to use an image to prove a point in a paper or put it on your website. However, it's important to be careful and be aware of the laws governing image rights.  Here are some resources that may help you figure out whether you can use an image or not:

Creative Commons

You may have seen, on Flickr or elsewhere, captions that say that an image is protected by the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons is a type of copyright or licensing agreement between the creator of an image and everybody else on the Internet.  If you look closely, the Creative Commons license that goes with an image will tell you exactly what you can and can't do with an image.  There are four basic qualifications:

Attribution: If the image says this or has a little person icon next to it, that means you can use the image if and only if you give credit to the original creator.

Noncommercial: If the image says this or has a little dollar-sign-with-a-slash icon, you can use the image but you may not sell it or use it in any commercial way.

No Derivative Works: If the image says this or has a little equals sign icon, you can use the image but you may not alter, modify, or change it in any way.

Share Alike: If the image says this or has a little circular arrow icon, you can distribute derivative works of the image but only under the terms of the original licensing agreement.  E.g. if the original image was Attribution + Noncommercial (by-nc), you must distribute your version as Attribution + Noncommercial.

These four factors can be combined in various ways.  You can look at the official website of the Creative Commons to find out (much) more about this. 


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