I am told that we can use copyrighted images in our lectures to students now as they are for purely educational purposes, as long as we correctly attribute them. That is to say there is no need to ask the permission of the copyright holders.

What is the status of using copyrighted images in conference talks? Does it also count as education?

As pointed out, this will depend on the country in which the talk is given. Let me restrict the question to the US and UK in that case. If anyone knows the situation in another country then it would be great to hear that too of course.

In the UK, the reason why I suggested you could use copyrighted material in lectures without asking permission was http://lti.lse.ac.uk/copyright/copyright-2014.php#education .

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    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/29507/… Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 10:06
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    @Alexandros: In some fields, explaining the state of the art/related work is best done by showing screenshots of what others did. Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 10:11
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    @JeffE How about when the conference puts your talk online or you put it on your own website? The audience is then global.
    – Simd
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 19:46
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    @JeffE: Copyright-related Abmahnungen are a profitable branch of lawyerism, and a quick search turns up this example (article only available in German), where a conference organizer apparently had to pay a fine of 6000€ because some stock photos used in presentation slides made available on the conference organizer's website were not accompanied with proper attribution. ... Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 11:46
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    ... In that particular case, the fine could certainly have been avoided by a little more thoroughness when preparing the slides, and I am not saying that it is a frequent event; I just wouldn't trust that in any semi-public venue (or for anything published online), there are no "hungry lawyers" around who are actively looking for mistakes. I'd be surprised if the same type of "hungry lawyers" - and legal tools to feed them somewhat akin to the "Abmahnung" - couldn't be found in other countries, too. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 11:57

3 Answers 3


In Germany:

You are allowed to use copyrighted material for teaching and research (also conference talks) as long as it is not more than 10% of the original work or if it only concerns small works (less than 25 pages) and as long as it is only for a specific audience (one where you can name the participants afterwards). This is regulated by UrhG §52a, although the numbers are determined by several court decisions and not by the law itself. Presenting images from papers in a scientific and non-profit talk is legal.

What is illegal: To upload the slides of the talk or a video of the presentation to the internet afterwards. This would violate the 'specific audience' clause since everyone could see it.

Do not forget to cite the source of the images. This is always required.


Legal status can vary by country, content and sometimes even - the intended audience.

In many places you are allow to use otherwise copyrighted materials within fair use, e.g a figure from a paper.

For things, which are not directly relevant to talk (e.g. "let's put a nice stock image of a man with a plant") the story may be different.

In any case:

  • from the practical perspective, you are unlikely to go to jail (or even: getting fined) for showing copyrighted images in an academic talk,
  • from the legal perspective, unless you are a lawyer (or your country has a very clear law on copyright) you are unlikely to know wether is is legal or not.

Highly relevant:

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    Thank you for this. The risk that concerns me more than going to jail is a demand of money from the copyright holder or a threat to my university which then gets me into trouble with them. Wrt the linked question, I think mine has a different focus.
    – Simd
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 14:23

In the US this is legal and is covered under the "Fair Use Act". Link (archived version).

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    This is completely unclear to me. First, if you work for a private university is it even non-commercial use? Second, which types of images does this cover? For example, is it fair use to include a funny cartoon or a beautiful picture of a waterfall that simply makes your talk more attractive or interesting but isn't necessary to understand the material?
    – Simd
    Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 19:45
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    You are overthinking the situation. Any academic use, whether by a public or a private institution, is treated entirely separately from "commercial use". Even though there are a number of "for profit" colleges, those are not counted as commercial entities for the sake of copyright laws and fair use. As a general rule, what you are including in your presentation should relate to your content. Including a waterfall, for example, simply for aesthetics is a grey area and generally should be avoided....unless you can relate that waterfall back to your topic through an analogy in some way. Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 20:42

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