Copyright and IPR

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This taught session is part of Research Methods also called Workshop 1


Digital files are much easier to find, access, copy, share, re-use and change than physical objects. This can be a good thing. It can also create problems. In this session we explore issues of copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) from different perspectives.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this session you will be able to:

  • Assess the legal implications of publishing material on the Web.
  • Find copyright holders and copyright free resources.
  • Licence Web publications to control how they are subsequently used by others.
  • Find out if others are breaking the terms of your licence.

Copyright and IPR

Is it legal to make digital copies of resources from the Internet or elesewhere and use them in your own work?

Read the New York Times article [1] about street artist Shepard Fairey's lawsuit against the Associated Press, asking a federal judge to declare that he is protected from copyright infringement claims in his use of an AP news photograph as the basis for a campaign poster image of President Obama. The photograph was taken by freelance photographer Mannie Garcia. According to the suit, A.P. officials demanded payment for the use of the photo and a portion of the money Fairey makes from it. Mr Fairey's lawyers, including Anthony T. Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project [2] and a law lecturer at Stanford University, contend that Fairey used the photograph only as a reference, transforming it from the shot taken by Mannie Garcia. Just to complicate matters, Mr Garcia claims that he owns the original copyright.

Read also this article from The Guardian about the iconic image of Che Guevara, shot in 1960 by photographer Alberto Diaz "Korda" Gutierrez.[3]

Do you think Fairey's suit should be upheld? Why?

Should the same principles apply to pictures if you take them yourself? Take a look at this blog item on Stonehenge. Do you agree with the stance taken by the blogger? Why?

Now watch the video on "Fair Use" [4] and answer these questions:

What is "fair use" and is Shepard Fairey's use of the A.P./Garcia photograph fair use?

What is the difference between copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) and what rights does Mannie Garcia Have as the original photographer?

One way around copyright issues is to link to someone else's material from your own site rather than downloading it and actually putting it into your own site. This practice is known as "deep linking". Investigate deep linking via the Internet. (Don't rely on just Wikipedia alone). Is deep linking legal? What are the arguments for and against deep linking?

It is customary and good practice to inform site owners if you wish to link to their site from your own. Failure to inform them is not an infringement of copyright, as you are not downloading or storing their information. However you would infringe copyright if you mirrored their site on your server without their permission.

Finding copyright owners

Suppose you wanted to use a picture for the cover of an exhibition catalogue. Can you find out who owns the copyright?

What if you can't find a copyright owner? Is there such a thing as a best practice copyright disclaimer?

Take a look at the Library of Congress [5] to see how they and Flickr manage this issue.

Sometimes you might want to obtain permission to reproduce images, recordings or writings of other people (for example if you had interviewed them). Its a good idea to obtain their permission to reproduce this material before you start to collect it. Some examples of such forms are here:

File:Copyright release simple.doc

File:Copyright release erps.doc

Copyright free sources

There is a growing number of high quality, copyright free, image sources in addition to general public site like Flickr. Some are listed below. If you know of others please add them to this page.

The Victoria & Albert Museum [6] offers free use of its images for personal and educational uses.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with ArtSTOR offers publication-quality images free for use by the scholalrly community through the Images for Academic Publishing initiative [7].

Wikimedia Commons [8] is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to all.

CCFinder [9]is short for Creative Commons Finder and it finds pictures published under the Creative Commons License. This means that you can easily search for pictures that you can re-publicize or share without breaking law or having to pay money. CCFinder also explains what you may do with each picture and what to keep in mind when doing so.

Image authenticity

The Internet is a largely unregulated domain in which it is advisable to be sceptical about the truth and accuracy of information published there. This applies as much to images as to written text. The ready availability of easy to use photo editing software has spawned a host of faked images on the Web. Some are easier to spot than others, like this one of the Statue of Liberty taken from the film "The Day After Tommorrow" posted during hurricane Sandy in 2012.


This article discusses this phenomenon from a journalistic perspective and offers tips on how to detect if an image has been doctored.

Finding out if someone else has used your images

Pictures posted to popular sites such as Flickr are vulnerable to unauthorised copying and reuse, see for example the story of Danielle and Jeff Smith's familiy photo [10] or this one about wholesale stealing of portrait photos to create fake profiles on online dating sites [11]. But images have also been copied illegally from apparently well protected sites such as museum and galleries. See for example the National Portrait Gallery case [12]. The TinEye Websiteand Google Image search both allow you to search the Web for particular images by matching the actual image content rather than associated metadata. This research paper describes the results of an investigation into the unauthorised use and re-use of images from the National Gallery, London. Try using one of these sites to search for copies of images you know.

Protecting resources

The UK copyright service provides a useful step-by-step guide to creating a copyright statement. [13]

If your resource incorporates a database you might want to include in the copyright statement that you hold a database rights ownership in the contents of the database. Some examples of such statements can be found at:




Alternatively you may be happy to let others use your work. Creative Commons [17] provides free tools for showing the freedoms attached to published creativework. You can use Creative Commons to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some rights Reserved".

Further reading

Lister, M. 2009. Photography in the Age of Electronic Imaging in Wells, L. (Ed.) 2009. Photography: A Critical Introduction. (4th Edition) London: Routledge.

JISC Digital Media [18]for advice on how to create, use and manage digital media.

This is a nice piece by Andre Gunthert about the nobel prize that was awarded to the innovators of digital images click here.

The Digital Curation Centre is the UK’s leading centre of expertise in digital data curation

The Handbook on the Preservation of Web Resources [19]: Commissioned by the JISC from UKOLN and ULCC's Digital Archives is full of useful information, including strategies which help you decide what to keep, how to keep it and how to ensure ongoing access to it for future generations.

UKOLN Cultural Heritage Web Site [20]: for guidance on metadata and digital preservation. See their guidance papers.

Creative Commons [21]: Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.

Some useful further reading can be found at:

The Max Plank Institute offers advice on copyright issues.

The museums copyright blog [22] is for questions and answers about museum related copyright issues.

The digital copyright discussion list [23] is another useful place to raise copyright issues. although it is US based so the views expressed there understandably reflect the US legal position.

Although developed for teachers and students who want to reuse material created by others, the JISC Web2rights diagnostic tool offers guidance on copyright isues. See the explanatory video [24].

The UK Intellectual Property Office offers diagnostic exercises to assess your copyright position [25]

Guidance on copyright in relation to academic research and publishing can be found in a number of places. The following guidance provides a useful example:

Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research - Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Published jointly by the British Academy and the Publishers Association. April 2008 (Damian) File:Copyright guidelines.pdf

Follow this link to the PRDA Contents or Research Methods Contents page to return to the module contents.

Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page to return to the Course contents.