I am an instructor for a machine learning course and I need to make a presentation on all the recent architectures or models. I have to include a lot of images from several research papers and need to keep them in public on my website for all the students to study.

To keep the details about the models and architectures, I thought of using diagrams describing the architectures from various research papers available and use them in my tutorial. But after reading about rules and copyright infringements, I concluded that I may not be allowed to use those images directly in my tutorials. Although I can cite the paper that contains the images it will be difficult for students to follow the tutorial if I don't keep images in sequence.

With this context, I'm not doubting whether I can place images like this in tutorials that are intended to keep in public for further use of students.

So as an instructor, do I need to make the images on my own for every architecture and model I am going to discuss? If yes, that would a lot of time.

  • 9
    Is it necessary to make it publicly visible, as opposed to sharing just with the students taking the course?
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 23, 2021 at 11:28
  • Have you considered asking for permission from the various authors? Sep 23, 2021 at 15:16
  • What does it mean to "crop an architecture"? Sep 23, 2021 at 19:05
  • It seems to be synonymous with "model," which aren't images. Do you mean you want to extract a published diagram from a peer-reviewed paper and put it in your slides? Sep 23, 2021 at 19:06
  • 1
    @Azor Most likely something like this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convolutional_neural_network#/media/…
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 23, 2021 at 19:28

5 Answers 5


For legal advice you can be certain of, check with someone appropriate at your school. Start with the chair of your department.

That said, common academic practice says you can use the images as part of the teaching material you provide your students - properly acknowledged, of course. You may not be able to use them in something you publish.

  • 8
    The important part: "properly acknowledged". Sep 23, 2021 at 3:08
  • 8
    Note that putting content on the public internet (rather than an internal system only your students can access) is more liable to be viewed as "publishing" (and make any defence based on fair use/fair dealing more complicated) if anyone actually decided to take legal action.
    – origimbo
    Sep 23, 2021 at 10:58
  • 1
    The academic/educational exception for use of copyright material isn't unlimited. Nor is fair use, as I comment on for another answer.
    – Buffy
    Sep 23, 2021 at 12:44
  • 1
    I'm ready to bet a beer that both the department chair and the legal department will answer "it's unclear; just be safe and don't use them". Sep 24, 2021 at 15:12
  • @FedericoPoloni For sure the lawyer would say that. The chair might say "I'm sorry you asked". I won't take your bet. The OP has edited the question to specify display on their website. There links to the originals would be OK. Sep 24, 2021 at 15:18

Even if someone wanted to complain and/or sue (and they won't), this would almost surely fall under "fair use" (or equivalent in other countries). You are using a small portion of copyrighted work for teaching purposes, which is allowed - so you don't even need to mail all journals.

On the other hand, "fair use" wouldn't apply if you wanted to publish your lecture (as a book, review article etc) - in that case, the practice is to obtain permission for all the images from the journal that published them.

  • 6
    "Fair use" isn't an unlimited right anywhere that I know of. An image may be construed as a "work" in itself, independent of any article it appears in and hence it may be the "whole work" that is copied, not a "small portion". Beware of facile assumptions. Images of Mickey Mouse, for example, can get you in trouble. Vigilant lawyers with deep pockets.
    – Buffy
    Sep 23, 2021 at 12:42

About Fair Use:

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use. Section 107 calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating a question of fair use:

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair. This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair and all commercial uses are not fair; instead, courts will balance the purpose and character of the use against the other factors below. Additionally, “transformative” uses are more likely to be considered fair. Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work.
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work: This factor analyzes the degree to which the work that was used relates to copyright’s purpose of encouraging creative expression. Thus, using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item). In addition, use of an unpublished work is less likely to be considered fair.
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Under this factor, courts look at both the quantity and quality of the copyrighted material that was used. If the use includes a large portion of the copyrighted work, fair use is less likely to be found; if the use employs only a small amount of copyrighted material, fair use is more likely. That said, some courts have found use of an entire work to be fair under certain circumstances. And in other contexts, using even a small amount of a copyrighted work was determined not to be fair because the selection was an important part—or the “heart”—of the work.
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: Here, courts review whether, and to what extent, the unlicensed use harms the existing or future market for the copyright owner’s original work. In assessing this factor, courts consider whether the use is hurting the current market for the original work (for example, by displacing sales of the original) and/or whether the use could cause substantial harm if it were to become widespread.

In addition to the above, other factors may also be considered by a court in weighing a fair use question, depending upon the circumstances. Courts evaluate fair use claims on a case-bycase basis, and the outcome of any given case depends on a fact-specific inquiry. This means that there is no formula to ensure that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work—or specific number of words, lines, pages, copies—may be used without permission.

  • It would be better to add how this applies in the OP's situation. It seems relevant, but what conclusions to make from the perspective of the question are not clear.
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 23, 2021 at 21:23
  • OK; that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification. To explain further: Yes; there is a such this as "Fair Use," and in the United States, it's encoded in law. To use some protected work for educational purposes is covered, however there is a BIG asterisk: Case law. It's not so simple. Reading the above section I selected for inclusion, we repeatedly see this concept of Fair Use delineated, but also repeatedly see that external resources, meaning the outcome of past cases, is essential knowledge. It isn't quite so cut-and-dry as we might imagine. Sep 23, 2021 at 21:55

No, this is not expected.

Mature instructors often rely on their own publications/materials for showcasing things, otherwise, the most common way to go about it is to crop/screenshot data and provide a reference to the paper on the same slide similar to how one would do it if including this material in, say, a review article.

I am more particular about this kind of thing than most of my colleagues as well but my current understanding is, essentially:

  1. If it is in the public domain, you are free to use it in your talks (even though you're technically making money that way) long as you properly credit the authors. In most cases, it'd be just a reference; some resources like wikipedia provide more explicit instructions about proper attributions, if this is the case, follow those instead.
  2. If you obtained this knowledge elsewhere (such as while being a contractor), inquire about whether it is okay to use it for educational purposes first. Some areas such as medicine are particularly sensitive to this as they deal with personal data.
  3. If you use it outside of educational courses and have decided to write a book on the subject with the intent to eventually sell it, it becomes more complicated and strict, although in academia largely the same applies: many publishers/journals would have guidelines on fair use, however, facilitating this task.
  4. If parts of this course go into industry and you start using graphics in products you're shipping, this is almost certainly a big no. No one might come after you for a while but still... Don't do that.

Obligatory I am not a lawyer.

TL;DR: No, unless you make this course into a book or try to earn money with it outside of academia - in this case more caution/attention would be needed. Better use public domain resources.


I am an instructor for a machine learning course and I need to make a presentation on all the recent architectures or models. I have to include a lot of images from several research papers and need to keep them in public on my website for all the students to study.

No, you don't, and probably shouldn't. Your course material should be behind some sort of a wall that only enables those who are entitled to it have it. Most institutions of higher learning have a Learning Management System (LMS) that facilitates this.

If you use such a system, the images are no longer public, but much more limited in distribution, and claims of fair use are thus more legitimate (though not always true).

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