I have put into my paper a photo (available here) that I have collected from the company's website available for free. There is no copyright note, except the one at the bottom of the website and product is available for sale (probably patented). I have contacted the company seeking permission, but they did not reply after a week and I cannot wait anymore.

The paper will be published in an IEEE magazine.

So here are my questions:

  1. How to make sure an online photo carries copyright?
  2. Is citing to their website sufficient to avoid copyright violation?
  3. If received copyright permission, how to use the permission in the paper? (I received permission from another company for another photo). Write it on the image or write "courtesy of ..." (I have seen this phrase quite a lot).

UPDATE 1: Thanks all of you, referring to your answers, I decided to stay in the safe side by removing the photo from the paper. I did not criticize anything and did not admire it either (but it could be a free publicity for them which is ignored despite second email to the company). I just discussed its functionality as an encouraging innovation for particular domain.

However, almost NO ONE yet commented on 3rd question. Can any one help in this regard?

  • 8
    Why don’t you take a photo of the product yourself? Not only does this avoid copyright issues, but also would that photo almost certainly be more appropriate for a scientific publication than the marketing graphics you linked.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:13
  • 1
    I do not have the device :)
    – Espanta
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:20
  • 2
    If there is a photo on Wikipedia, you can expect it to have a license which allows you to use it (although do check; each picture there has a link to this information). As a distant second option, perhaps you can find a site with a review with a photo you could get permission to use, although probably not on the timetable you seem to hope for.
    – tripleee
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 11:26
  • @tripleee: And being allowed to use it can mean a variety of things, concerning options of modification and differing requirements in whether and how to indicate the original authors. Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    How many questions do you ask in a single question post? If you have not received any answer to your third question; ask it separately in a newer question post.
    – enthu
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 22:22

5 Answers 5


Photography and other creations carry copyright by default

The answer to your part 1 - the exclusive copyright of a photo belongs to someone from the point of its creation, even if no explicit copyright note is attached.

If you had made the photo of that product, then it would be an entirely different question, but redistributing a photo someone else made is legally almost exactly as redistributing a Hollywood movie.

Available for free doesn't imply a permission to redistribute

If something is freely distributed by it's owner, it doesn't come with an implied permission for you to do the same thing. Unless it comes with a licence that explicitly allows you to do so (e.g. the various Creative Commons licences), you don't have a permission to copy that image further. Citing the source doesn't change that.

Lack of response means lack of permission

If you don't have an explicit permission, then you don't have it regardless of reasons - if an author chooses not to communicate with you, then tough luck. It also may be that the company doesn't have free hands in licencing the image - it's quite possible that the copyright is owned by some photographer, and the company has a licence to use it in their website but not in print.

The journal may want clarifications

The journal submission documents will likely include either a statement that all images are your own, or that you have licenced them appropriately. They may leave the licences as your responsibility or require you to send them the documentation.

  • 2
    This is correct and directly addresses the questions in he OP. It's worth pointing out, however, that some countries have a Fair Use in their copyright laws, and depending on the paper and how the content is used in the paper, one might be able to claim fair use. It's often easier to get the appropriate permissions though, than it is to convince a journal that fair use covers your use of someone else's copyrighted content.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 16:02
  • A claim of fair use is generally a defense to suit for copyright infringements, and I suspect most publishers won't be willing to take the risk as you say.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 18:54
  • @AdamDavis republishing an image in a journal doesn't fit in generally accepted fair use criteria. It's included as a whole copy, not fragments; the use is commercial (as the publisher core business is charging money for the journals that include the image). If the copy was used for criticism of the image (not the product), then that could be fair use, as you're allowed to "quote" some artwork if neccessary to talk about it; and if it was used in a lecture presentation, not published, then that could be a fair use exception in many places. But this case is rather clearly not legally fair use.
    – Peteris
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 19:45
  • @Peteris, thanks for nice answer. Can u suggest on 3rd question? Pls give a small hint. I appreciate it.
    – Espanta
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 2:37
  • @Espanta you don't neccessarily need to include anything about the permission in the paper - depending on the journal policies you might or might not need to include it together with the paper (but not 'in' it), and if the owner will request some particular way of acknowledgement in the paper, then they'll make that clear.
    – Peteris
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 8:21

Without reading the paper, are you sure that the photo is necessary? It looks to be purely decorative, so perhaps you could sidestep the whole issue and leave it out of the paper.

  1. Just because the owner does not reply to your request does not give you implicit permission to use the content. These guidelines by Colombia University lay out the situation well.

    If the licensing situation is not clear, assume it is copyrighted. Private companies may get a little prickly if their products are conveyed in anything less than a glowingly positive light. Nevertheless, they usually can't do much if someone posts a bad review on a blog. I don't know for sure, but perhaps fair use will apply.

  2. If there is an attribution license, yes. For example, content posted on Stack Exchange has a CC license with attribution required. Otherwise, nope.

  3. Whichever is common in your field, or specifically requested by the owner of the copyrighted content, should be fine.

  • @StrongBad I just simultaneously added that bit. For instance, some software I used asked for a specific sentence and citation to be given in the acknowledgements section.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:02
  • @StrongBad? I assume you means Espanta :). I hope they come up with the permission so I know what to put where.
    – Espanta
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:05
  • 4
    “If the licensing situation is not clear, assume it is copyrighted.” – You can even go further: Unless the work has been explicitly released into the public domain or similar (which is very unlikely in the respective case), it’s automatically copyrighted, at least if the relevant laws comply with the Bern Convention.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:08
  • @Wrzlprmft Absolutely, although the more relevant (but much shorter and less prescriptive) treaty these days is the TRIPS Agreement (required for WTO membership)
    – sapi
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 10:55
  • 3
    I think what was meant by "If the licensing situation is not clear, assume it is copyrighted." is "If the licensing situation is not clear, assume that you do not have a license to re-use the piece."
    – user
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 12:24

As there have been good and extensive answers to your first two questions and you explicitly asked for answers to your last question, I will only address question number 3.

How you can use an image in a paper depends entirely on the type of license/permission you have received. Basically, you and the copyright holder are free to negotiate any type of attribution or none at all. But even if they do not explicitly mention attribution it is still a sign of good manners to include at least their name somewhere close to the image. In case you are unsure, ask the copyright holder how they would like to be attributed and suggest a manner which you think might be suitable for your paper.

Some images are available under free licenses, e.g. all the images on Wikipedia (with some fair use exceptions) and Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia's image repository. These licenses specify what you need to do when you want to use an image. Usually, they require that you attribute the author and name the license under which the image was used. Some licenses might also require that you release derivative works of the original image (i.e. when you edited the image in some way) under the same license.


A quick answer if you are subject to US law:

1. How to make sure an online photo carries copyright?

All online photos (and text, videos, etc.) "carry copyright." That is, someone holds the copyright on anything you find online. You are not allowed to redistribute it unless the copyright holder explicitly does something to grant you the right - for example, if they specify a license. (Though under certain circumstances the fair use defense allows you to "get away with it.")

2. Is citing to their website sufficient to avoid copyright violation?

No, citation is completely irrelevant to copyright infringement. Copyright law says you cannot copy and redistribute the content, regardless of whether you cite its source.

Exception: if the content is under a license that makes citation relevant. For example, the Creative Commons Attribution licenses say something like "You are allowed to copy this as long as you credit the author."

3. If received copyright permission, how to use the permission in the paper? (I received permission from another company for another photo). Write it on the image or write "courtesy of ..." (I have seen this phrase quite a lot).

Follow the conventions of your field, of course, but the typical way is something like "Figure from [source], used with permission." This question of mine addresses the case of open access content.


The other answers are technically correct.

However you ought to think about it practically.

Every company wants to sell their products, and unless your article is saying bad things about the product or company, they're going to be happy for whatever publicity they get via your article.

Unless the company is run by morons (does happen sometimes), they are NOT going to sue you for helping them by giving them free publicity. Even tho they could, technically, if they wanted to.

Just credit the source of the photo properly and you're done.

  • 6
    I would be cautious with assumptions like "[...] they are NOT going to sue you for helping them [...]" - they may have a different interpretation of the work or in general a zero-tolerance policy on copyright infringement.
    – CuriousCat
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 15:21
  • 4
    @nerdfever.com the most practical risk is not the copyright owner suing, but rather the publisher's legal department saying "you didn't submit proper proof of licencing, we'll not publish the paper".
    – Peteris
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 19:47
  • 7
    @nerdfever.com A lot of companies bend over backwards to help their customers, and that may well involve granting rights to use material in published papers, particularly if it is positive. But what if it's bad press? I don't know any companies who are willing to bend forwards. Just because you're unlikely to face repercussions doesn't give you license to flout the law. This is TERRIBLE advice.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 20:08
  • 1
    The copyright holder of the photograph in question may not be the manufacturer of the product, in which case this advice is entirely irrelevant.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 20:43
  • 1
    @Moriarty: I'm not a lawyer, but there is such a thing as "fair use" in copyright law, and I'm pretty sure this would fall under it. One of the key tests is that the use does not diminish the commercial value of the image, which I think would be the case here. Most importantly, "fair use" does NOT require permission; this is not "flouting the law". Check out en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use. Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 1:24

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