I am teaching a freshman science course for the first time and I am doing also outreach activities in high schools. To be able to attract the young generation to science one has to connect the concepts with everyday applications.

So I build my power point slides using pictures from the textbooks which we officially use. Unfortunately when one does a Google search on any subject by images, one gets much more appealing and fascinating pictures. Some of these pictures are even related to simple applications which are explained in popular science sites on very recent discoveries. The problem is that I cannot use those pictures from Google sites in my slides because they are copyrighted.

What should I do then? Should I stick to the boring-looking textbook pics to avoid copyright problems, or bring life to my course by using images Google shows up (but then I might go to the jail!)?

Is there something that says one can use images shown by Google for educational purposes with no copyright issues?

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    +1 I have been in touch with computer science for many years and I'm still afraid of using external graphics/copyright thing. I just feel its complicated.. hope we find a good answer for your question..
    – seteropere
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 15:50
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    This doesn't answer your question, since it asks about Google but I always look at the Wikimedia Commons first for images. The selection and quality is pretty good and they are all freely usable.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 18:20
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    I'm disturbed that you're referring to these as "Google Images"; they're not. They images owned by a whole variety of different people and websites that Google has found for you; you have no more intrinsic right to them than you to do an image you found in a book or the text you find in a library book. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 22:56

9 Answers 9


You can use images showing up in Google Search if and only if the license allows for it. Therefore, you might be interested in Advanced Google Image Search, where you can search by copyright status. More information about the Usage rights search can be found here.

For example, here are freely useable images searching for "Mars". Notice how many of them are from NASA or the Wikimedia Foundation.

And here is an example searching for "IBM".

Note: See the important remark by @jb. in the comment below — you should verify with the original source (1) that the picture really is free to use, and (2) under what conditions

Good luck and enjoy!

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    You might also try to use flickr.com, where you can search for images with various versions of Creative Commons and check those licences.
    – walkmanyi
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 20:59
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    Yes. I assume Google Image Search includes all of those as well.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 21:06
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    Using google filter doesn't mean that you can freely use images you found, you'll have to manually confirm that you have rights to use each image you found. From Usage right search help page: Before reusing content that you've found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren't making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed.
    – jb.
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:47
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    I don't think this answer the question "Can I use images showing up in Google search for my presentation slides without violating any copyright?" but rather "how can I find any alternative creative commons images?"
    – G M
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 10:48
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    @gerrit exactly that the question it answer! "how can you use Google Image Search to find for images you can use in presentation slides?"
    – G M
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:14
  1. Find an interesting image.
  2. Check for licensing conditions. If license has generous terms (like Creative Commons license) allowing free reuse of the image, or reuse under conditions that you meet (like attribution or absence of modifications), use the image.
  3. If you think your use is covered by fair use: use the image.
  4. Otherwise, contact the copyright holder for explicit permission to reuse.
  5. If it is not clear who is copyright holder, it is orphaned work. In some European jurisdictions it can be used (but not in the US).

Educate yourself with this nice website: http://www.teachingcopyright.org

This document for teachers is a good resource too: http://www.umuc.edu/library/libhow/copyright.cfm

It must be noted: many people follow the algorithm below

  1. Find image
  2. Screw it! Just use image
  3. Realize that nobody came to put you in jail

It does not mean it is right, but they are not going to jail. And if their use is not to make money they probably will not meet issues at all.

  • The latter link seems to be USA-specific. Mentioning this would improve the answer.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:52

Is there something that says one can use Google images for educational purposes with no copyright issues?

Nope, there is no such principle in general, although it depends on the particular country. In the U.S. the closest concept is fair use, which covers some cases. Unfortunately, there's no simple way to tell when it applies. For example, it's not true that all educational uses are automatically fair use.

I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if you reproduce a figure from a paper so you can criticize it, then that's certainly fair use, but if you decide to illustrate your cryptographic protocol using Bart and Lisa Simpson, then that's likely not. Of course many cases fall in between these extremes.

In practice, though, you are unlikely to get in any trouble for using copyrighted images in slides for an academic presentation. People do it all the time, and I've never heard of any legal action. Posting the slides online is a little riskier, but even that is sometimes done. [Don't interpret this as legal advice, of course: it's still illegal if it's not covered by fair use.]

If you want to be careful, you can choose to use only public domain images or those available under a suitable Creative Commons license allowing re-use. The web page http://search.creativecommons.org/ can help you find such images.

Note that Creative Commons licenses typically require attribution, and that's a good practice in general. If you use any images you don't create, I'd recommend a little note giving credit off to the side somewhere. After all, it's good to model high ethical standards for our students.

  • Yeah one has to cite the reference of course, but in case one would have a slide which contains 6 images taken from different places it is a problem. Eventually the slides will be full of links to many sites, and some links are too long, this would be so distracting I think. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 16:23
  • Yeah, it can be tricky. You could just have a line at the bottom of the slide in very small type saying "Images from A, B, C, D, E, F." and not giving full links. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 16:26
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    It depends on the country. In Germany the copyright law has a paragraph which explicitly allows using small works or small parts of a work for teaching purposes.
    – silvado
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 18:51
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    @Silvado: Good point, I'll edit to clarify. Incidentally, the German law (dejure.org/gesetze/UrhG/52a.html) allows only uses that are "necessary to the respective purpose" ("zu dem jeweiligen Zweck geboten"), so it's not 100% clear to me what it covers, and it does not include anyone but the actual students (for example, you cannot post the slides online). Still, it's great that German law has formalized this. I wish they would do that in the U.S. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 19:47
  • @NewScienceFaculty If links are long or distracting, you can provide them aggregated in last slide (like references in papers). I've seen it quite often. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 16:19

In case the search engine does not matter to you, you could also search in Flickr instead of using Google. The advanced search on Flickr has an option to search for pictures with the Creative Commons licence only, which is a good start.

However, check the individual licence terms. E.g. some pictures require that the photographer is mentioned.

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    There is no such thing as "the Creative Commons license". CC publishes several very different licences.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 21:30
  • Explicitly answering the question would improve this answer.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:54

I'm not a lawyer, but I think that your use of the image is a non-profit commercial use, it might be considered as fair use, so you will be fine. From Nolo, The 'Fair Use' Rule: When Use of Copyrighted Material is Acceptable:

When Is a Use a "Fair Use"?

There are five basic rules to keep in mind when deciding whether or not a particular use of an author's work is a fair use:

Rule 1: Are You Creating Something New or Just Copying?

The purpose and character of your intended use of the material involved is the single most important factor in determining whether a use is a fair use. The question to ask here is whether you are merely copying someone else's work verbatim or instead using it to help create something new.

Rule 2: Are Your Competing With the Source You're Copying From?

Without consent, you ordinarily cannot use another person's protected expression in a way that impairs (or even potentially impairs) the market for his or her work.

For example, say Nick, a golf pro, writes a book on how to play golf. He copies several brilliant paragraphs on putting from a book by Lee Trevino, one of the greatest putters in golf history. Because Nick intends his book to compete with and hopefully supplant Trevino's, this use is not a fair use.

Rule 3: Giving the Author Credit Doesn't Let You Off the Hook

Some people mistakenly believe that they can use any material as long as they properly give the author credit. Not true. Giving credit and fair use are completely separate concepts. Either you have the right to use another author's material under the fair use rule or you don't. The fact that you attribute the material to the other author doesn't change that.

Rule 4: The More You Take, the Less Fair Your Use Is Likely to Be

The more material you take, the less likely it is that your use will be a fair use. As a general rule, never: quote more than a few successive paragraphs from a book or article, take more than one chart or diagram, include an illustration or other artwork in a book or newsletter without the artist's permission, or quote more than one or two lines from a poem.

Contrary to what many people believe, there is no absolute word limit on fair use. For example, copying 200 words from a work of 300 words wouldn't be fair use. However, copying 2000 words from a work of 500,000 words might be fair. It all depends on the circumstances.

To preserve the free flow of information, authors have more leeway in using material from factual works (scholarly, technical, and scientific works) than to works of fancy such as novels, poems, and plays.

Rule 5: The Quality of the Material Used Is as Important as the Quantity

The more important the material is to the original work, the less likely your use of it will be considered a fair use. In one famous case, The Nation magazine obtained a copy of Gerald Ford's memoirs before their publication. In the magazine's article about the memoirs, only 300 words from Ford's 200,000-word manuscript were quoted verbatim. The Supreme Court ruled that this was not a fair use because the material quoted (dealing with the Nixon pardon) was the "heart of the book ... the most interesting and moving parts of the entire manuscript," and that pre-publication disclosure of this material would cut into value or sales of the book.

In determining whether your intended use of another author's protected work constitutes a fair use the golden rule: Take from someone else only what you wouldn't mind someone taking from you.

As you can see, this answer might violate the rule 4 and 5. Wish me luck.

  • The answer would be improved by an explicit answer to the question and by mentioning that fair use is specific to certain countries, maybe only USA.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:56

A copyright is still limited in some very important ways, such as Fair Use. This is a legal doctrine which allows even copyrighted material to be used by others for purposes of "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.", see this link (or archived version of original link).

Since it sounds like you would be using the images for nonprofit educational purposes, as long as you cite the course it is not infringing on anyone's rights.

  • The answer would be improved by an explicit answer to the question and by mentioning that fair use is specific to certain countries, maybe only USA.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:55

It depends on the image

Your question is not well posed, and also most of the answers that you get are actually answering other questions. Google searches images all around the web so you have to check if the website where the image is stored has some permissive licence or guidelines regarding the sharing and reuse of the image. Filtering by licences using Google Images could be an option but actually, the way this search works is to check if the pages have a link to an explicit license. So sometimes the authors used images without consent and put the text of the website under creative licences and you think that also the images are under creative licence. In other cases, the website might have a dedicated page for permission to reuse that Google could not find automatically. So Google filters are not always infallible.

If the image has a restrictive copyright

If the image has a restrictive, it means you did not find a permissive licence. All content in the web is copyrighted if a permissive licence is not released. However, even for copyrighted images, there is sometimes the option of 'fair use' in U.S. and in Europe, you may have a look to Copyright Directive Article .5.3 which list exceptions that the European state might integrate into their law:

illustration for teaching or scientific research, provided the source, including the author's name, is acknowledged,

So eventually you have to check the legislation of the country where you present the talk.

A specific question has already been posted for talks: What is the legal status of using copyrighted images in academic/conference talks?

  • 1
    @TommiBrander thanks I integrated the answer.
    – G M
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 12:37

We publish an industry magazine (very colourful and attractive piece!) and we use all our images from ThinkStock.

This is not a free site but once you have subscribed to it (for a year or a month), you can download the number of images in your package.

There is no copyright restrictions and you can manipulate the images in any way you like.

Check this too: MorgueFile Its free.

And StockExpert

  • 4
    2000 € per year is probably more than a teacher can afford, and I think most departments would not see it as a justified expense.
    – F'x
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 8:06
  • Explicitly answering the question would improve this answer.
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:57

There are plenty of innovative services out there that offer you legal content for low or no cost. Most of them even offer their own PowerPoint add-ins so that you can get your pictures without even going to Google and having to worry about copyright. Shutterstock, Pickit and Pexels are such services and while the first one costs a little amount per picture, the other two are free alternatives with great content. Discovering those has greatly reduced my copyright headaches when I present and I've even made some of my own photos available for usage. Recommended!

  • Explicitly answering the question would improve this answer. Also, are you affiliated with any of the websites?
    – Tommi
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 11:57

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