I am talking about images in particular. If I collect a dataset for non-profit purposes (research) and an image is publicly available for anyone on the web (i.e. I can see it in google image search results, and the access to corresponding web page is not limited), does it mean that I can use it, if I mention source?

For example: 3d models themselves might be not available and cost money, but their previews are freely accessible by anyone on the web. Can I use these images as data for research and distribute an archive with these images freely? (including text file with authors of these images and URLs to pages!) Images themselves are available for free.

Or, I might collect a list of these URLs and publish a large txt file with these URLs so that everyone could download them if they need. That should not be a violation, is it? If I one downloads images to train an algorithm?

I feel like that is somewhat different from using images for educational or illustrative purposes.

  • 1
    The exact details will be situation and geography-dependent, but your situation may be covered by fair use: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use
    – Harry
    Mar 28 '17 at 23:22
  • @Harry , thank you, I did not know about this term!
    – MInner
    Mar 28 '17 at 23:25
  • Define "publicly available" and "available for free". Just because something is on the internet and your browser can download the image from a server doesn't mean you have permission from the creator to use it in your own work. IANAL, but be very, very careful here.
    – tonysdg
    Mar 29 '17 at 2:08
  • 3
    @gerrit Creating a research database of materials is different to using images in a presentation. I also think this question could have two different answers depending on whether the database was or was not subsequently made publicly available. Mar 29 '17 at 3:33
  • PLEASE stop being so fast to mark things as dupes without reading them carefully, people. The other question was "Can I use pictures off the internet in presentations". This one is "can I use them in my research" - as I read it, it's NOT specifically about publishing or distributing them.
    – Flyto
    Mar 30 '17 at 13:00

There are at least three largely-unrelated questions buried in here. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, and in any case its correctness may vary a little according to where you are.

The first thing to establish is that "appearing on the internet", whether in Google Images or elsewhere, does not mean that something is in the public domain. Something may be public domain, or it may be copyrighted with a permissive license, or (most commonly) neither of these may apply - although you can configure Google Images to search for pictures with public domain and/or Creative Commons licenses.

Now, the three questions:

  1. If something is available online can you use it in your research? I don't see any copyright reason why not, since you're not distributing it; downloading an image to perform research is not fundamentally any different to downloading an image (in your browser) to view it. You might need to be careful that your research (which you presumably do want to distribute) is not a "derivative work" of the copyrighted material. Reporting something like "50% of pictures on the internet are of cats" would not be a problem, but for less clear-cut cases - for example where part of the original material remains - you might want to check.

  2. If something is available online can you redistribute it? No, or at least not by default. Not unless it is public domain or licensed in such a way as to permit this. "Fair use" considerations may modify this answer in some jurisdictions.

  3. Can you distribute a list of the URLs of copyrighted works that others could download for their own research? Probably, but there have been some attempts at really bizzare laws in this area in some countries, due to websites that provide links to pirated movies, etc., that they do not host.

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