Educational Image Use and Fair Dealing: Tips and Guidelines

Educational Image Use and Fair Dealing: Tips and Guidelines

This resource provides a set of guidelines for students using and creating visual materials. It is not meant to be legal advice.

Remember: The fair dealing exemption does not apply if the image is commercially available on the Canadian market in a medium that is appropriate for the intended purpose, and can be acquired within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price.

Using Images within the Parameters of Fair Dealing

  • Copying digital images, scanning, and screenshots
    • Making a scan from a book, downloading a digital file from the web, or capturing online image content with a screenshot for use in your academic work falls within the limitations set out by the fair dealing exception when the number of copies remains limited and the use of the copies is strictly within the context of an educational institution. You may also use these copies if the images are covered by a license that allows for educational use or where no permission is required, such as a public domain work.
  • Displaying and handing out images in class
    • Under fair dealing educators and students can display a copyrighted image in the classroom or elsewhere on university premises for educational purposes. Copied images can also be included in a class hand-out. In both cases, you must adhere to the restrictions that may be copied under fair dealing. If for example, you wish to post multiple images from a book, you may do so as long as those images amount to no more than 10% of the book. Try and use as many different sources as possible for you materials. Remember: The extent to which you use an image is also a consideration. If you reuse a copyright protected image repeatedly in multiple and various course materials, you could be moving beyond the limits of fair dealing.
  • Sharing images on a website and CULearn
    • Adhering to fair dealing means that distribution is limited. If you are adding the copyright protected image to a website you need to ensure that the website is password protected (e.g. CuLearn) and restricted to students enrolled in your course. If your intended use falls outside the terms of use stipulated by the image source, then you will need to seek the copyright owner’s permission.
  • Using images found online
    • When using image resources from the Internet you should always check the website's "Terms of Use" or "Legal Notices" section to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material, including whether educational use is explicitly prohibited. Many websites will allow non-commercial educational use of their materials.
    • You can also chose to use low resolution images or thumbnails, which do not compete with the commercial interest of copyright owners, or link to images rather than posting them on a class website. Always ensure that the content to which you are linking is not itself in violation of copyright.
  • Using images in presentations and posters
    •  As mentioned above, displaying images on university grounds and as part of course work is permissible under fair dealing, but always be mindful of the purpose and extent to which you use copyright protected work. If your presentation is going to be recorded and uploaded to YouTube or if your poster, which began as part of course work is adapted and used for non-educational or commercial purposes, you will need to reassess the images you have included to ensure that you are not in violation of copyright. You may need to seek permission from the creator/copyright holder or change the image to one that permits your intended use.
    •  Best practice is to always give credit to the author of an image and cite your source. If you are using multiple images in a presentation then include a final slide with thumbnails of every image used with proper attribution. See Customizing Image Credit Lines and Captions for guidance on how to cite images by project type. Remember: Explicitly citing an image source is not a replacement for obtaining copyright permission if it is required.
  • Adding work that includes copyright protected images to open access repositories like Carleton’s CURVE
    • If the extent to which you use a copyright protected image moves beyond fair dealing, for example the research paper you submitted through CULearn as part of course work is going to be added to an open access institutional repository like Carleton’s CURVE, then you need to re-assess the images included to ensure that you will not be violating copyright.1

1. This section on educational image use was adapted from the University of Waterloo's "Frequently Asked Questions" from Copyright Guidelines, accessed March 20, 2016, This content on the University of Waterloo website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.

Additional Resources for Using Images in Academic Work:

College Art Association Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts
Similar to "fair dealing" in Canada, "fair use" is the U.S. legal doctrine that permits a limited use of copyright protected materials under certain conditions. This code provides a set of principles addressing best practices in the fair use of copyrighted materials. It describes how fair use can be invoked and implemented when using copyrighted materials in scholarship, teaching, museums, archives, and in the creation of art.

Digital Image Rights Computator (DIRC)
The Digital Image Rights Computator (DIRC) program is intended to assist the user in assessing the intellectual property status of a specific image documenting a work of art, a designed object, or a portion of the built environment.

Visual Resource Association Statement on the Fair Use of Images For Teaching Research and Study
This document describes the six uses of copyrighted still images that the Visual Resources Association (VRA) believes fall within the U.S. doctrine of fair use. The six uses are: (1) preservation; (2) the use of images for teaching purposes; (3) the use of images on course websites and in other online study materials; (4) adaptations of images for teaching and classroom work by students; (5) sharing images among educational and cultural institutions to facilitate teaching and study; and (6) the reproduction of images in theses and dissertations.

University of Washington Libraries Ethical Image Use Checklist
This checklist will help you work through the ethical considerations and issues involved in using and producing images.

Content last reviewed: February 3, 2021