Not plagiarism? How about copyright infringement?

June 9, 2016

Given the ease of finding images on the internet, it is not surprising that people rarely think about where they came from. People may think twice however, if they knew that downloading an image without consent might be illegal. Seems easy enough to fix, right? As it turns out, just citing the source may not be enough. If an image is copyrighted, one may still not be allowed to use an image even after citing the source. Luckily, Sara Hawkins gives several great tips on using images from the internet in her article here.

One of her main points is that plagiarism and copyright infringement are two separate issues. She writes that, “Plagiarism is an ethical concern that may have other elements of intellectual property theft tied with it. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is illegal and carries with it potentially significant consequences. Plagiarism can be avoided by providing attribution and giving credit, copyright infringement can not.”

However, Hawkins continues by writing that on occasion copyrighted images may be used depending on whether they have a creative commons license. Next time when you come across a copyrighted image you like, check and see if it has a creative commons license. Some will let you use the copyrighted image if you follow certain guidelines. There are multiple different types of these licenses, so it is important to review the terms of each one before using a picture.

As Hawkins is quick to point out, there are also many great public domain images on the web, many of which do not require attribution and are free to use. One great source for public domain images is pixabay, though there are doubtless many other great sites too.

Still unsure whether you can use an image? Check out this handy flowchart made by Curtis Newbold.

As the editor acknowledges, this flowchart is meant to function as more of a general guideline. In the words of Hawkins, it is best to “assume every image you find is copyrighted!”

— Alex Chin, former intern