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Fair Use: Using Images and Non-Textual Materials in Presentations, Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Documenting and Citing Images

This guide offers basic information on using images and media in research. Reasonable use of images and media in teaching, course papers, and graduate theses/dissertations is generally covered by fair use.

Documenting Image Sources

Please note that this is advice on best practices and considerations in documenting and citing images and non-print materials. It does not represent legal advice on obtaining permissions.

Generally, images copied from other sources should not be used without permissions in publications or for commercial purposes. Many American academic institutions require graduate students to archive their finished and approved theses/dissertations in institutional electronic repositories and/or institutional libraries and repositories, and/or to post them on Proquest's theses database. Unpublished theses and dissertations are a form of scholarly dissemination. Someone else's images, like someone else's ideas, words or music, should be used with critical commentary, and need to be identified and cited. If a thesis/dissertation is revised for publication,  waivers or permissions from the copyright holder(s) of the images and non-textual materials must be obtained. Best practices also apply to materials found on the internet and on social media, and, properly speaking, require identification, citation, and clearance of permissions, as relevant.

Use the following elements when identifying and citing an image, depending on the information you have available. It is your responsibility to do due diligence and document as much as possible about the image you are using:

  • Artist's/creator's name, if relevant;
  • Title of the work/image, if known, or description;
  • Ownership information (such as a person, estate, museum, library collection) and source of image;
  • Material, if known, particularly for art works;
  • Dimensions of the work, if known.

The Chicago Manual of Style online can be searched for norms on appropriate ways to caption illustrations, capitalize titles of visual works, or cite print materials that contain images.

Conventionally speaking, it is common to create a separate list of images (or figures) and their attributions, rather than mix the listing of images/figures used within a bibliography of works cited.

Examples of Documenting Images

The image below is scanned from a published book. It can be used in a critical context within a presentation, classroom session, or  paper/thesis, as follows:

[Figure 1. This photograph from 1990 shows the Monument against Fascism designed by Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz, Hamburg, 1986-1993. Image from James Young, ed.,  Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History (New York: Prestel, 1994), 70]

If you need to use this image in a published work, you will have to seek permission. For example, the book from which this image was scanned should have a section on photo credits which would help you identify the person/archive holding this image.



The image below was found through Google Images and downloaded from the internet. It can be used in a critical context within a presentation, classroom session, or paper/thesis, as follows:

[Figure 2. This image shows the interior of Bibliotheca Alexandrina designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta in 2001. Image downloaded from http://mgkhs.com/gallery/alexandria in March 2016.]

If you want to use this image in a published work, you will have to do your best to track down its source to request permission to use. The web site or social media site where you found the image may not be an appropriate source, since it is common for people to repost images without attribution. Just because "everyone does it" does not mean that you should be using such materials without attribution or documentation. In this specific example, you may need to write to the photographer or to the architecture firm. If you have done due diligence and were unable to find the source, or have not received a response, you may be able to use an image found on the internet with appropriate documentation in a publication.


 

The image below was downloaded from a digitized historic collection of photographs held by an institutional archive. It can be used in a critical context within a presentation, classroom session, or paper/thesis, as follows:

[Figure 3. In the 1920s the urban landscape of Los Angeles started to change, as various developers began building multi-family apartment houses in sections previously zoned for single family dwellings. Seen in this photograph by Dick Whittington is the Warrington apartment building, which was completed in 1928, surrounded by older single family structures. Downloaded from the USC Digital Library in February 2016]

If you plan to use this photograph in a publication, seek permission from the library/institution from whose digital archive you downloaded the image. Contact information is usually found in the record for the image.


 

The image below was taken by the author. It can be used in a critical context within a presentation, classroom session, paper/thesis, or a publication* as follows:

[Figure 4. Genex Tower, also known as West City Gate, is a residential tower located in New Belgrade. This example of late 20th century brutalist-style architecture was designed in 1977 by Mihajlo Mitrović. Photographed by the author in 2013.]

*Please note, if you re-photographed someone else's photograph or a work of art, or if you re-photographed a published image, you may not be able to publish your photograph without first seeking permission or credit for its content. If you have done due diligence and were unable to find the source or have not received a response, you may be able to use your image with appropriate documentation.