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Find resources and recommendations on making legal and ethical use of copyrighted scholarly work.


A classroom presentation or paper illustration?

In general, images used in a classroom presentation, for a scholarly lecture, or in an unpublished assigned paper, fall under the concept of Fair Use or the TEACH ACT.  Fair use is an exception to the exclusive rights granted by copyright. For further information, consult Circular 21 of the United States Copyright Office.


A lecture to a paying audience?

If your audience is paying to see you, in general you should obtain permission before using an image, unless the image is in the Public Domain.

A published scholarly article, book, dissertation or website?

You are responsible in these cases for obtaining permission, unless the work is in the Public Domain. In most cases, your publisher will require that you do so.

A new work of art based on another person's art?

Not an easy question to answer. The creator of a copyrighted work of art is given the exclusive right to prepare derivative works based on that work. On the other hand, there is a long tradition of artists responding to others' works. Whether you are basing your work on the original work of art, or a digital or print copy of it, it is always safest to get permission first.

Dramatic Works

Planning to perform a play, or add some commercially recorded music to your own theatrical work?  Check out the links below for some guidelines on how to obtain the necessary permissions.


  • Visual Resources Association: Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research and Study Recommendation from the Visual Resources Association for the fair use of images in academia, including use in dissertations. Written in 2012.
  • College Art Association's Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. Published in 2014. Covers the main areas of writing, teaching, creating, archiving and museum use. The landing page also includes a helpful FAQ.
  • Copyright for Dissertations. Created by the University of Michigan Library, this document answers many general questions about obtaining permissions for and giving credit in dissertations and theses.
  • Fair Use Checklist This list will help you to determine if your employment of an image falls under fair use. From the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office.
  • Asking for Permission Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office. Asking for Permission. Columbia's site offers practical advice on how to contact the copyright owner, how to write an effective letter (email) and how to document your efforts. It also includes model letters for use of video or text, and for use of copyrighted materials in a course management system.
  • Creative Commons Images Look for images online that grant a Creative Commons license (CC). "The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.." The permissions will vary by creator but one can often find images that allow free use with proper attribution.
  • A Creative Commons Primer for Graduate Students Blog entry by Heather VanMouwerik that does a good job of explaining Creative Commons and how images using this license can be utilized by grad students.
  • Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society for Film Studies. Advice on publication of film stills in scholarly works.
  • Wikimedia Commons Guidelines for Derivative Works
  • Art and Architecture Resources on the Web: Copyright