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BCB: Summer Research Experience: Images

What is Copyright?

The United States Copyright Office provides the following definition for copyright:

  • "Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

Because copyright covers both published and unpublished works, you are already a copyright holder, even if you don't have any published works. For example, for any email that you send, a paper that you write, a photograph that you take, or a video that you create, you own the copyright.

Copyright owners control:

  • reproduction of their works
  • distribution of copies of their work 
  • making of derivative works 
  • public performance and display of their works

Website Copyright Policies

  • Websites have varying policies regarding the use of their content, so you need to carefully check the policies for each website.
  • Although you might see that the website and all its content are copyrighted, you will also want to read that website's terms of use in order to see if there are any circumstances where they DO allow use of their content.
  • In general, check the bottom of the web page for the "fine" print. It might say "copyright," "legal," "terms of use," "web policies," or similar terminology.

What is the Public Domain?

What is the Public Domain?

Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner. According to the U. S. Copyright Office, a work of authorship is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Many U.S. federal government documents are not entitled to copyright protection under U.S. law; therefore, images within many government publications and web sites are free to use.

Which items are in the Public Domain in the U.S.?

  • Items published before 1923
  • Works published 1923-1963 whose copyright was not renewed.
  • Works created by a U.S. federal government officer or employee as part of official duties. Items such as those published by the U.S. Government printing office, Supreme Court Decisions; the CIA Factbook, and many other documents including the descriptions of patents that have been granted by the USPTO (but this does not give others permission to manufacture or use the invention during the life of the patent without permission from the inventor).

Helpful websites about when works enter the public domain:

Creative Commons

The Create Commons logo: Two C's in a circle



As you search for creative works to use in your project, you may see Creative Commons licenses attached to these works. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free licenses that allow the owners of creative works to share their content with the public on their terms. This nonprofit organization offers a number of licenses ranging from "Some Rights Reserved" to public domain.

CC attributions vary, therefore you must read the summary of the license to understand how to use the image, texts, videos, music etc.

Websites with for Free-to-Use Images

Google Images Advanced Search

Try filtering your image search in Google Image Advanced Search mode in order to find images that are free for you to use.


Charts, Tables, and Graphs

Charts, graphs, and tables are not subject to copyright protection because they do not meet one of the key requirements for copyright protection, which is that they are not “original works of authorship” under the definitions in the Copyright Act. Facts and data aren't considered original works of authorship and therefore are generally not under copyright protection because they are regarded as “discovered” and “recorded” natural phenomena rather than “created.” Keep in mind however, that some countries do protect data and data sets, so if you are planning on taking your data abroad, be aware that the rules may not be the same as in the U.S. But, your use of data within the United States, for example, on servers in the U.S., is acceptable. Only in cases where a chart, table, or graph creatively represents more than just an expression of the underlying data, would the works be considered under copyright (e.g., a bar graph on U.S. immigration data created in the likeness of a U.S. flag). If you do need permission, refer to WPI's webpage on Requesting permission for information and a sample letter to adapt.

 For examples of charts, tables and graphs that are NOT subject to copyright, as well as an example of a graph that IS subject to copyright, see the examples listed at the University of Michigan's Copyright website:

Citing Images: Copyright and APA

Citing Images: 

Basic Format for a reference list citation for an Electronic Image:

Author (Role of Author). (Year image was created). Title of work [Type of work], Retrieved from URL (address of website)

Example of a Reference list entry for an image: 

Sipler, D. (Photographer). (2005). Nap time [Photograph]. Retrieved from

See more image citation examples here: 


Captioning Images:

A caption should include

  • The word Figure (with a capital letter and in italics)
  • A number (from 1, in numerical order)
  • A title for the figure or brief description of the work
  • Information that tells the reader where you found the work.
  • Copyright information. 


Figure 1. Map of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity in the United States. From “Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity: Data, Trends and Maps. Alabama Indicator Details Percent of Adults Aged 18 Years and Older Who Are Obese,” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015 ( In the public domain.


How to write a copyright statement for an image: 

Read more about images and copyright: APA Style Blog: Navigating Copyright for Reproduced Images