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Finding Copyright-Free Images: Home

This guide will help you to identify and use images that are not subject to copyright.


Use this guide to locate copyright-free images for education, research, publication, and other non-commercial purposes.

Gauguin, Paul. Self-Portrait. 1889. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


We gratefully acknowledge the awesome librarians at the University of Washington, whose Image Guide was an inspiration to us as we produced this guide.  Many of our links and some of the text are drawn from that guide.

When Copyright Restrictions Don't Apply

There are many ways to find images that you can use without worrying about copyright restrictions.  Five important ones are:

Find and use images with a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Their copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work — on conditions of the creator's choice. CC licenses let creators easily change copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable creators to modify copyright terms to best suit their need

Use images under the Fair Use provision.   A provision in copyright law that allows for the use of copyrighted works under some specific circumstances and for particular purposes such as criticism, comment, scholarship, or research. Fair use is determined by the following four factors (from Chapter 1, Section 107 of the Copyright Law):

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • e use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Use Images that are in the Public Domain. When a work is not covered by copyright (because the copyright term has expired, the creator has released the work, or the work was never copyrighted) it is in the public domain. The public then holds the rights to the work.

Use Images from Subscription Databases.  As a member of the PA Community, you are entitled to use materials that are licensed by the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.  Many of these products contain images,  If you need images for an assignment that will exist in a physical form or will exist in a virtual form inside BlackBoard, you can freely use the copyrighted images in these databases.  The subscription costs cover the licensing fees.  However, if your project will exist on the free web, you may not use these images.


Copyright: Legal right of creators to control how their works are used by others. Images may be subject to multiple copyright claims, including claims by artists, photographers, designers, institutions, corporations, or others.

Copyright Term: The period of time a work is covered by copyright. The copyright term is limited by copyright law.

      More information: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Intellectual property: Creative products and results of intellectual work, including designs, images, symbols, art, and architecture.

      More information: World Intellectual Property Organization