Skip to Main Content

Digital images and copyright

What to be wary of in using digital images, where to find copyright free and copyright friendly images, and how to attribute. 

What to be wary of

Don’t assume that all free-to-view images are necessarily free-to-use. Many will be subject to copyright restrictions.  

Google Images is the obvious place to start looking for images. However, it can be a false friend, in that although it provides access to a vast array of images, the great majority of these are copyright protected, and would require you to seek the author’s permission before using.  

However, there is a way of finding copyright free and friendly images on it. Click on Settings at the bottom of the screen, and then on Advanced Search. Scrolling down the search page will take you to usage rights. Select the filter appropriate to your needs – these broadly correspond to the Creative Commons licences (see below).  

If you are a lecturer, then your use of an image may be covered by the fair dealing copyright exception, as long as you are carrying out non-commercial teaching activity. It is likely to be okay to display an image if you are using it in a non-recorded lecture session, and you provide a statement of attribution (see below). 

For any images used in materials made available electronically via Moodle or Panopto, you are strongly advised to seek permission from the rights owner for re-use, unless re-use is permitted under a Creative Commons licence or the image is copyright free. If you have not obtained permission to use a copyrighted image, then please pause or edit a Panopto recording when such images are displayed on screen.   

For images created by yourself, but which are published in a source such as a book or journal article, you will need to seek written permission from the rights owner, normally the publisher, to re-use it in teaching materials, and to keep a record of this.  

For images created by a student, lecturers are advised to seek their written permission to use the image on Moodle or Panopto, or in any printed materials, and to keep a record of this.  

Copyright free and copyright friendly images

The good news is that many images are available for re-use under a Creative Commons (CC) licence. CC licences exist to enable copyright holders to retain and assert their ownership of copyright and get the credit for their work that they deserve, but also to grant others the right to copy, distribute and to varying degrees re-use their work. They are widely used worldwide. There are six types of CC licence

Other images are in the public domain, which means that they can be freely re-used without attribution.  

Use these great resources to locate CC and public domain images:  

  • openverse has millions of items, all under CC licences or public domain.  
  • Wikimedia Commons contains images available under CC licences.  
  • flickr allows you to filter search results by licence type so you can source CC or unrestricted materials.   
  • MorgueFile is a big repository of images, most under a standard licence. Note that the images displayed first when searching are premium images by Shutterstock and need to be paid for.  
  • The Noun Project is useful as it specialises in icons. You need to create an account to access content. Basic downloads are free, but images must not be edited, and the creator must be attributed.   
  • Openclipart provides good quality, copyright free, clip art.  
  • pixabay contains very high resolution images, many of which require no attribution. Be aware, however, that the images displayed at the top of search results, in the Sponsored Images box are stock images that need to be paid for.  
  • Public Domain Pictures is a repository for free public domain images. Some terms of use still apply, so be careful to check these.  

Attributing images

Unless the licence says it is not required, each image that you use in assessed work, lecture materials and for other purposes must be attributed. 

There are no hard and fast rules about how to do this, but generally an attribution statement should be immediately below the image, and include: 

  • the title of the image 
  • the author 
  • the source (the URL where the image is hosted) 
  • the licence.

This is an example of how Creative Commons recommend attribution should be done (source: Creative Commons: Best practices for attribution

"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


For a page in Moodle, the attribution statement could either be added as a separate label underneath the image, or text could be added at the bottom of the label in which the image appears. 

Are you looking for?