Using Images in Publications


Many scholarly publications are enhanced with images, ranging from reproductions of fine art to graphs showing the results of scientific research. Including images in books and articles can complement the text, visually demonstrate the author's analysis, and engage the reader. Using images in publications, however, raises copyright issues, which can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive. To help authors navigate this process, publishers often provide specific guidance, including what rights must be requested, acceptable file formats, image resolution, etc. See Requesting 3rd party Permissions from Oxford Journals or Image Guidelines from Johns Hopkins University Press as examples. 

The primary issues that you need to aware of when incorporating images in your publication are: 


The right to publish a copyrighted image is controlled by the copyright owner, so each copyrighted image that you use must have permission or fall within an exception to the general copyright statue, such as public domain, fair use, or open access. Copyright permission fees are sometimes waived or reduced for scholarly publications; if not, however, they can be quite expensive as well as time-consuming to obtain. We recommend that you begin the permissions process early to avoid any last-minute complications that may delay publication of your work. In addition to copyright permission, some museums and other providers of images charge a fee for the production or use of a digital image from their collections, even if the underlying work is in the public domain. Like permissions fees, use fees are sometimes waived or reduced for scholarly publications.

High resolution images

Publishers will require a high resolution image for publication (usually at least 300 ppi). These may come from museums, archives, other collections, your own work, or suppliers of stock photos. There may be a fee assessed for use, the amount of which can vary significantly depending on who is supplying the image and how you are using it.

Printing costs

The cost of printing images can be substantial for the publisher, so be sure to discuss with your editor how many images they will publish, whether they will be in color, and whether a subvention will be required if the manuscript contains a large number of images.

Privacy and publicity rights

If you have a photograph with people in it, there may be privacy or publicity rights that need to be addressed.

Read more

Copyright Principles

Public domain

If you can find a usable image in a book or journal article published before 1927, it will be in the public domain, and therefore free of any copyright restrictions. Certain images published between 1927 and 1989 may also be in the public domain, depending on if they were published with a copyright notice and if the copyright was renewed. For more information, use this public domain chart or contact

Works of the United States government are also in the public domain and may be used freely.

Some museums, libraries, and archives make public domain images freely available with few or no restrictions. Read more in the Finding Images section.

Open Access / Creative Commons

Wikimedia Commons has a large collection of images that are licensed using the Creative Commons licensing system. Restrictions, if any, are listed with the image. It is important to recognize that if you use Wikimedia, you are relying on copyright information provided by the person uploading the image. You should review the copyright information carefully to be sure it appears to be accurate.

Many of the licenses in Wikimedia permit noncommercial uses only. The definition of noncommercial for purposes of the CC BY-NC license is, “NonCommercial means not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.” Creative Commons provides some further guidance on how to interpret the NC license. 

Fair use

Under certain circumstances, publishers may be comfortable with relying on fair use when publishing images accompanying scholarly works.

The guidelines in the College Art Association’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts set out the fair use arguments for using art for educational purposes: 

PRINCIPLE In their analytic writing about art, scholars and other writers (and, by extension, their publishers) may invoke fair use to quote, excerpt, or reproduce copyrighted works, subject to certain limitations:


  • The writer’s use of the work, whether in part or in whole, should be justified by the analytic objective, and the user should be prepared to articulate that justification.
  • The writer’s analytic objective should predominate over that of merely representing the work or works used.
  • The amount and kind of material used and (where images are concerned) the size and resolution of the published reproduction should not exceed that appropriate to the analytic objective.
  • Justifications for use and the amount used should be considered especially carefully in connection with digital-format reproductions of born-digital works, where there is a heightened risk that reproductions may function as substitutes for the originals.
  • Reproductions of works should represent the original works as accurately as can be achieved under the circumstances.
  • The writing should provide attribution of the original work as is customary in the field, to the extent possible.

Your own work

If you have your own high resolution photograph, you may use it freely since you own the copyright in your photograph. If, however, your photograph is of a copyrighted work of art, permission of the artist will be required unless it is a fair use. Note that many museums do not allow photography of works in their collections, so obtaining your own image of a work of art may not be an option. While architectural works are subject to copyright protection, photographs of publicly viewable buildings may be used. 17 U.S.C. § 120(a).


If your image does not fall into any of the above categories, you will need to request permission from the copyright holder for use of the image. You may be able to obtain permission from one of the sites listed in the next section, or you may need to request permission from the artists or their representatives. The Artists Rights Society represents the intellectual property rights interests of visual artists and their estates worldwide and covers works in private collections as well as museums and galleries. ARS has a request form for permissions requests. Note that ARS handles permission requests only and does not supply images of the works.

For more general information on requesting permission, visit our Requesting Permission page.

Finding Images

Museums, libraries, and archives

Some museums, libraries, and archives have collections of public domain images available for use in scholarly publications. The content of the collections and the permitted uses vary among institutions. Many do not allow images to be used as cover art since that is usually considered to be a commercial use, and some limit use to print publications. Below is a list of libraries and museums that make works available with few or no restrictions. 

  • British Library - The British Library’s collection on flickr allows access to millions of public domain images from the Library's collections. Higher quality images, if required, are available for purchase through the British Library. For more information, visit the Library's Images Online page.  
  • J. Paul Getty Museum - The Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. More information about the content of the collections is available on their Open Content Program page.
  • Library of Congress - Prints and Photographs - This collection has over 1,200,000 digitized images from the Library's collections. Rights information is available for each image - look for the field marked "Rights Advisory." Many collections have no known restrictions on use. For further information about using the collection, read the Copyright and Other Restrictions That Apply to Publication/Distribution of Images. Information on restrictions on use by collection is also available.
  • National Gallery of Art - NGA Images is a repository of images presumed to be in the public domain from the collections of the National Gallery of Art. Users may download— free of charge and without seeking authorization from the Gallery— any image of a work in the Gallery’s collection that the Gallery believes is in the public domain and is free of other known restrictions.
  • New York Public Library - This collection contains more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public-domain items from the library’s special collections in downloadable high-resolution files. High resolutions downloads are available with no permission required and no restrictions on use.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum - These images of art from the collections of the V&A are available for academic publishing with some limitations (print runs up to 4,000 copies or 5 years online use). Read the full terms and conditions to see if your use qualifies.

Stock image sites

There are many companies that provide both a high quality image for publication and a license for publication. These sites usually have good selection of images, the images are high quality, and the search features are sophisticated. Licensing fees vary considerably and can be high, though you may be able to negotiate a discount for use in a scholarly publication.

For some of the sites listed below, the price will vary depending on which rights you need for publication: print/electronic, region of the world, number of languages, number of books, where the image will be placed (inside/cover), and size of the image. After entering that information, a license fee will display based on your use. The license fee is not automatically available for some images; for those, you will usually receive an email message after submitting your request. You should consult with your editor when selecting options to be sure you have selected the appropriate options for your book or article.

JSTOR Images Search

JSTOR Images Search (Georgetown NetID required for off-campus access) is a subscription database that includes some images specifically licensed for academic publishing. These images are identified with “IAP” (Images for Academic Publishing) under the thumbnail image in your search results. Details of the use, including size of print run and credit line, vary among IAP images. You can view these by clicking on the IAP icon under the thumbnail image. The Terms and Conditions agreement displays when you download the image. Most JSTOR images, however, are not in the IAP program and are not licensed for use in scholarly publishing. To use a non-IAP image in a book or article, you will usually need to request permission or go through a fee-based stock photo archive, often Art Resource, for a license. JSTOR provides contact information for permissions in the "Rights Notes" section of image information page.

You may also find usable images for publication on the sites listed on.

Additional options

Specific Uses

Cover images

Images that appear on the cover of a book often require specific permission for that use and a higher fee.

Film frames

The Association of University Presses has this statement on fair use and film frames in their Permissions FAQ:

You may use frame enlargements and publicity stills (both from films and from television shows) when you can justify their inclusion in the work under fair use guidelines—for example, when it can be argued that the illustration serves as a quote from the filmic “text” to illustrate a point. Be conservative in selecting material—if the still or frame illuminates a point you are making or is specifically discussed, then the use may qualify as fair use. Where possible, limit the number of frames reprinted from any one film and from different films that represent the subject of your work. If your use is decorative, you must seek permission from the rightsholder to include it. When purchasing material from a photo agency, read the conditions stated on the agreement and on the back of the photo very carefully (particularly the fine print). In all cases, acknowledge the original copyright holder. For a more in-depth analysis of fair use as related to stills and frame enlargements, the fair use section of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies website offers a number of policy statements and disciplinary guidelines that may be useful.

If your use goes beyond fair use, or if your publisher has a more restrictive policy, you will need to get permission from the copyright owner. Most major film studios have a licensing division where you can submit a request – MGMSonyWarner Brothers, Paramount Pictures,  Universal, and Walt Disney Studios, for example. For smaller producers, you will need to contact them directly with your request.

Charts, graphs, and figures

There are differences among publishers with respect to what permissions they require for graphs, so a good first step is to consult with your editor on their policies. A few sample policies are:

  • Princeton University Press - "Where a chart, graph, or table is being reproduced in a critical study of the work or to buttress an argument of the writer, no permission is needed. Data is not copyrightable. Unless there is a creative element to data depiction that is being reproduced without alteration, fair use can be asserted, with attribution."
  • Harvard University Press - "Data is not protected by copyright. However, graphics like tables and charts are copyright protected if the data is organized or presented in a unique way or if the graphic provides interpretation of the data. If you plan to reprint a graphic from another source that is protected by copyright, please clear permission. If you plan to reprint existing tables and charts, adapt existing tables and charts, or create your own tables and charts that will not be subject to copyright protection, please refer to the following guidelines for credit: The standard way to credit tables and charts you are reprinting is: Source: Credit."
  • Oxford University Press - "As a guide, you should always seek permission for:  . . . Pictures (paintings, drawings, charts, engravings, photographs, cartoons, and so on); Figures and maps; Tables."

There are permissions guidelines that many STM publishers use in setting policies for the reuse of images from their publications. The guidelines include gratis permission for the use of limited numbers of figures/tables/images from journal articles or books, though note that not all members have adopted policies exactly as written in the guidelines.

Many publishers who follow the STM guidelines, or who have similar policies, provide free permissions through the Copyright Clearance Center's Marketplace so those requests are usually quick, easy, and free. The Marketplace system requires information about your publication and exactly what rights you are seeking. For charts, graphs, or figures that fall outside the guidelines, the license fees are often in the $20-$50 range, although that depends on many factors and could be higher or lower.

If you have questions about using images in a scholarly publication, please email