I'm a master student in psychology. A year ago, I downloaded a lot of free clipart online to create my study stimuli. For example, some clipart are from this website: http://clipart-library.com. I basically created my study stimuli using clipart from multiple sources. I finished writing up my thesis and plan to publish it soon. However, it occurs to me that if I publish my study with a few figures of experimental stimuli, it may incur copy right issues. I'm wondering what would be the best option for me at this moment? Should I not include any figures in my publications?


3 Answers 3


The terms of use page of the site in your link says "All images on our site are for Non-Commercial Use," which should include academic use. If you include any of their figures, give appropriate credit. For material from other sites, read their terms of service and give the required credit.

In any case, be sparing in using clip-art in a thesis.

  • Thank you very much for your response! I used clipart to create my experimental stimuli that I showed to my participants. In the manuscript I'm preparing to submit for publication, I want to include one or two stimuli images as figures, but I won't show all the stimuli. I know think I should just not include any figures to avoid copyright issues. Or I can ask someone to draw these figures, so I will own the copyright.
    – user96976
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:01
  • 6
    @user96976 If you publish some figures, they'd better be the exact ones used in the experiments, not redrawn versions. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:09
  • 1
    Thank you! I decided not to include any figures in my manuscript to play it safe.
    – user96976
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 14:16

I'm not a lawyer but the terms of use say:

All images on our site are for Non-Commercial Use.

So, as long your thesis has no commercial implications, you should be fine. You may want to add somewhere a reference to the website or to the individual images, like:

Adapted from [1]


(image source [1])

where [1] is a permanent link to the image in the repository.

  • Thank you very much for your response. I quickly checked license of other images, some websites state "Image License Personal Use Only". Does personal use only refer to non-commercial use?
    – user96976
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 18:34
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    @user96976 What do you mean by other websites? You should check the license terms of the websites from which you took the images. In my answer, I assume that you downloaded images only from Clipart Library as mentioned in your question. In any case, no, personal use does not mean non-commercial use. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 18:39
  • Thank you. I meant that I selected cliparts from different sources. Some have a different type of license.
    – user96976
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 18:59
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    No, "personal use" likely does not include academic use. It is for web cards to your mom, and such. But if you are in doubt, you can normally ask the creator/rights holder for permission, explaining what you want to do.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:03
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    @user96976 In this case, there cannot be a general answer valid for all sources. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:04

Carefully distinguish between "using" an image, and republishing it. If you analyze tens of thousands of images but don't republish any of them then you are fine as long as you obtained them legally.

Copyright doesn't apply to "using" something. It applies to republishing it.

Another issue would be in play if you went around paywalls to get access. Now you are in the area of theft, not copyright.

But you can look at anything and you can think about anything and generally speaking you can write about anything. Just don't steal it and just don't republish it without permission of some kind.

As an example, if, in those tens of thousands of images you find 600 that depict Minnie Mouse, you can say so without violating any of Disney's copyrights. You can even say that in 300 of those she was dressed in red and in 200, in blue. Not a problem. Just don't include any of the images without permission.

For purposes of your thesis, just include images that you are sure are free to use for the purpose as stated by the copyright holder. As others have stated "Non Commercial" should be fine, but "Personal Use Only" maybe not.

  • I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not theft to circumvent paywalls, just copyright violation, since you’re copying something that they said that you couldn’t; you aren’t depriving them of their copy. It might also run afoul of computer crime (hacking) laws if you do so by obtaining unauthorised access to their computer equipment.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 1:41
  • @nick012000, my usage was colloquial, not legal.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 11:16

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