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I am teaching a freshman science course for the first time and I am doing also outreach activities in high schools. To be able to attract the young generation to science one has to connect the concepts with everyday applications.

So I build my power point slides using pictures from the textbooks which we officially use. Unfortunately when one does a Google search on any subject by images, one gets much more appealing and fascinating pictures. Some of these pictures are even related to simple applications which are explained in popular science sites on very recent discoveries. The problem is that I cannot use those pictures from Google sites in my slides because they are copyrighted.

What should I do then? Should I stick to the boring-looking textbook pics to avoid copyright problems, or bring life to my course by using images Google shows up (but then I might go to the jail!)?

Is there something that says one can use images shown by Google for educational purposes with no copyright issues?

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+1 I have been in touch with computer science for many years and I'm still afraid of using external graphics/copyright thing. I just feel its complicated.. hope we find a good answer for your question.. – seteropere Jan 30 '13 at 15:50
This doesn't answer your question, since it asks about Google but I always look at the Wikimedia Commons first for images. The selection and quality is pretty good and they are all freely usable. – KennyPeanuts Jan 30 '13 at 18:20
I'm disturbed that you're referring to these as "Google Images"; they're not. They images owned by a whole variety of different people and websites that Google has found for you; you have no more intrinsic right to them than you to do an image you found in a book or the text you find in a library book. – Jack Aidley Jan 30 '13 at 22:56

You might be interested in Advanced Google Image Search, where you can search by copyright status. More information about the Usage rights search can be found here.

For example, here are freely useable images searching for "Mars".

And here is an example searching for "IBM".

Note: See the important remark by @jb. in the comment below — you should verify with the original source (1) that the picture really is free to use, and (2) under what conditions

Good luck and enjoy!

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You might also try to use, where you can search for images with various versions of Creative Commons and check those licences. – walkmanyi Jan 30 '13 at 20:59
Yes. I assume Google Image Search includes all of those as well. – gerrit Jan 30 '13 at 21:06
Using google filter doesn't mean that you can freely use images you found, you'll have to manually confirm that you have rights to use each image you found. From Usage right search help page: Before reusing content that you've found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren't making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. – jb. Jan 31 '13 at 11:47
Flickr also offers good stock of images and advanced search option to filter images. – radek Nov 28 '14 at 13:33
  1. Find an interesting image.
  2. Check for licensing conditions. If license has generous terms (like Creative Commons license) allowing free reuse of the image, or reuse under conditions that you meet (like attribution or absence of modifications), use the image.
  3. If you think your use is covered by fair use: use the image.
  4. Otherwise, contact the copyright holder for explicit permission to reuse.
  5. If it is not clear who is copyright holder, it is orphaned work. In some European jurisdictions it can be used (but not in the US).

Educate yourself with this nice website:

This document for teachers is a good resource too:

It must be noted: many people follow the algorithm below

  1. Find image
  2. Screw it! Just use image
  3. Realize that nobody came to put you in jail

It does not mean it is right, but they are not going to jail. And if their use is not to make money they probably will not meet issues at all.

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Is there something that says one can use Google images for educational purposes with no copyright issues?

Nope, there is no such principle in general, although it depends on the particular country. In the U.S. the closest concept is fair use, which covers some cases. Unfortunately, there's no simple way to tell when it applies. For example, it's not true that all educational uses are automatically fair use.

I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if you reproduce a figure from a paper so you can criticize it, then that's certainly fair use, but if you decide to illustrate your cryptographic protocol using Bart and Lisa Simpson, then that's likely not. Of course many cases fall in between these extremes.

In practice, though, you are unlikely to get in any trouble for using copyrighted images in slides for an academic presentation. People do it all the time, and I've never heard of any legal action. Posting the slides online is a little riskier, but even that is sometimes done. [Don't interpret this as legal advice, of course: it's still illegal if it's not covered by fair use.]

If you want to be careful, you can choose to use only public domain images or those available under a suitable Creative Commons license allowing re-use. The web page can help you find such images.

Note that Creative Commons licenses typically require attribution, and that's a good practice in general. If you use any images you don't create, I'd recommend a little note giving credit off to the side somewhere. After all, it's good to model high ethical standards for our students.

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Yeah one has to cite the reference of course, but in case one would have a slide which contains 6 images taken from different places it is a problem. Eventually the slides will be full of links to many sites, and some links are too long, this would be so distracting I think. – New Science Faculty Jan 30 '13 at 16:23
Yeah, it can be tricky. You could just have a line at the bottom of the slide in very small type saying "Images from A, B, C, D, E, F." and not giving full links. – Anonymous Mathematician Jan 30 '13 at 16:26
It depends on the country. In Germany the copyright law has a paragraph which explicitly allows using small works or small parts of a work for teaching purposes. – silvado Jan 30 '13 at 18:51
@Silvado: Good point, I'll edit to clarify. Incidentally, the German law ( allows only uses that are "necessary to the respective purpose" ("zu dem jeweiligen Zweck geboten"), so it's not 100% clear to me what it covers, and it does not include anyone but the actual students (for example, you cannot post the slides online). Still, it's great that German law has formalized this. I wish they would do that in the U.S. – Anonymous Mathematician Jan 30 '13 at 19:47
@NewScienceFaculty If links are long or distracting, you can provide them aggregated in last slide (like references in papers). I've seen it quite often. – Piotr Migdal Jan 31 '13 at 16:19

In case the search engine does not matter to you, you could also search in Flickr instead of using Google. The advanced search on Flickr has an option to search for pictures with the Creative Commons licence only, which is a good start.

However, check the individual licence terms. E.g. some pictures require that the photographer is mentioned.

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There is no such thing as "the Creative Commons license". CC publishes several very different licences. – TRiG Jun 13 '14 at 21:30

We publish an industry magazine (very colourful and attractive piece!) and we use all our images from ThinkStock.

This is not a free site but once you have subscribed to it (for a year or a month), you can download the number of images in your package.

There is no copyright restrictions and you can manipulate the images in any way you like.

Check this too: MorgueFile Its free.

And StockExpert

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2000 € per year is probably more than a teacher can afford, and I think most departments would not see it as a justified expense. – F'x Jan 31 '13 at 8:06

A copyright is still limited in some very important ways, such as Fair Use. This is a legal doctrine which allows even copyrighted material to be used by others for purposes of "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." (see

Since it sounds like you would be using the images for nonprofit educational purposes, as long as you cite the course it is not infringing on anyone's rights.

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