One thing that always bothered me is the liberal use of protected material in informal academic publications (for example Powerpoint presentations, handouts and internal reports rather than published papers).

It seems that the "everything on the Internet is free" attitude is also widespread in the academic world. And while I regularly spend a considerable amount of time either creating the graphic material I need or search for it on the Internet, nearly everybody else is not even thinking about it. Need a nice picture of a sunset or a little fish to include in your graphic? Just google and use the first one, without thinking twice!

This does not happen on single occasions only, I've made that experience in several countries, working in different environments.

Sometimes, among co-workers and friends I raise this issue and am usually met with understanding. Most of them see the problem with the additional time they need to spend to search for relevant material or the creation of an appropriate space to include copyright notes or references to graphic material. Some also mention that it would be considered unprofessional including a user name on the Internet as the source for their imagery.

My questions therefore is, how do I sensibly raise this issue among supervisors (which may consider this a waste of time) or an unknown crowd, especially considering above-mentioned criteria?

  • 6
    To quote section 107 of the US Copyright act: "[t]he fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." So at least in the US, it looks like you're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 21:37
  • As JeffE points out, what you're describing is protected fair use in the US, and indeed, in many if not most Berne convention signatories, so it's not clear why this bothers you or what "the issue" actually is. As such, I'm not sure the question is answerable.
    – Henry
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 22:44
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    I don't understand the downvotes and close votes. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 0:14
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    @JeffE, it being legal in the US due to Fair Use doesn't prevent someone from suing you. That could be quite costly to defend, and it's not guaranteed to get thrown out automatically. You, or your expensive lawyer, actually need to make an argument against the copyright holder's team of lawyers in briefs or maybe actually in person to a judge in a courtroom. Those costs can add up. The odds of suit from a presentation with a stolen pic are low, IMO, but they are not zero.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 2:18
  • ...doesn't prevent someone from suing you — Okay, sure. But why is that your problem?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 3:37

1 Answer 1


From an ethical point of view, I think most people can still sleep well despite taking the first fish from Google from time to time.

From a legal perspective, it depends on your jurisdiction and the license of the image. As Jeff points out, it's often fine in many places.

You should define your goals (ethics vs. legal), and act accordingly (which is my case would be do nothing).

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