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Art Research Guide

Downloading Images from the Internet

Myths about using digital images:

"There is no name or copyright info with this image, so I can copy and use it."
"I got it from the Internet, so it is in the Public Domain."

Most images on the Internet are copyrighed.
It is your responsibility to use the images you find in accordance with
the US copyright law and fair use.

Fair use is a concept in the US copyright law, which allows you to use
copyrighted materials without permission or payment under certain conditions.

See: Using Images Without Violating Copyright



If you are downloading an image form a museum's website or any individual/institution's website, make sure to check their terms and conditions for image use. If you don't find one, contact the author of the website to ask about your intended use of the image. 

Scanning Images From a Book/Publication

Making digital images from print publications is allowed under Fair Use of the U.S. Copyright Law. Make sure to write down the detailed information of the publication, then cite the source that you have scanned from. See: How to Cite Images

Understanding Image Licenses

The next step after you find an image will vary depending on the license of the image. Here are common categories of image licenses, and what you can do:

  • Copyrighted - © All rights reserved
    • No matter what your purpose is, you need to seek permission from the creator of the image.


  • Public Domain
    • You are free to use the image for any purpose without permission.


  • Creative Commons
    • More and more visual materials in popular websites such as Flickr and Youtube are licensed under Creative Commons guidelines. CC is free easy-to-use copyright licenses that allow sharing and re-using digital content under legally sound terms.


  •  Do you upload videos and photos online? Are you an artist?

Consider assigning Creative Commons licenses to your own work. Use this simple tool Choose a License to set a license.


  • Open Access
    • An increasing number of institutions and individuals are adopting this policy to make their image collections available with no restrictions. See an example by National Gallery of Art, their new Open Access Policy.

See also examples of Open Access visual collections.


  • Fair Use

Scanning Standards

When scanning images from a printed publication, the best practice today is to save TIFF as master files, then compress to JPEG for your digital presentations. The Library of Congress has the practice of scanning pictorical works at 300 ppi and 24 bit color at the minimum. The standard practice today for JPEG images is to resize them to 1024 x 768 pixels at 72 dpi for a full screen view. 

To learn more about scanning, the below are two great resources:

More about Copyright and Image Use