Checking images for copyright

When you want to use an image in your work, you need to know if it is copyrighted. Read here how to check this.

When you use an image, citing the source is always required, but not enough. Two things are essential to check:

  • What is the original image?
  • Is this image copyrighted?

Finding the original image

You can check the origin of an image by doing a reverse image search. To do this, click on the camera icon in the search bar of Google Images and upload the image, or drag the image into your browser. (The latter only works with Chrome or Firefox.)

Related images may indicate the original source. Check (via the search settings at Google Images, or in the conditions of the website) whether the original image is copyrighted.

If this is the case, the image may only be used with permission from the author (or, for published material: the publisher). Often, getting permission is simply a matter of sending an email to the copyright holder. If you would like to use the image for non-commercial educational purposes, please include this in your request. This may increase the chance of consent.

Legal and illegal images

Many images are reused illegally on other websites, so always check the origin of an image you want to use. If a copyrighted image has been used elsewhere (with permission from the copyright holder), you need to check whether it may be redistributed. If no explicit permission is given, this is an indication of illegal reuse. Even if the image has been illegally copied to a royalty-free page, you should not cite this royalty-free source.