Image Rights and Usage

Note: Professor JW Bailly of the FIU Honors College is an artist. He is not a copyright lawyer. These notes are intended as a guide for his students. At no time should they be considered anything more than general opinions and advice.

Image by Rainhard Wiesinger from Pixabay

Being a photographer or a designer is a profession, often a freelance one. The manner by which these two professions make a living is by selling or granting usage rights to these images, whether that be through physical prints or digital reproductions. Their photos are their property, and this property should be treated like any other commodity. Getting paid for their work is how photographers and designers support their families, pay rent, eat.

Once you understand that an image is the product of another person’s work and that they depend on selling that property to survive, you can easily understand why you shouldn’t carelessly download and repost images. Not only is it unethical, it’s also a violation of copyright law. In an academic context and particularly as members of a university community, posting or using an image without properly crediting the creator can be tantamount to academic misconduct.

So, don’t steal photos and designs!! It’s lame, can get you into legal trouble, and could even get you charged with academic misconduct within your school.

Every single person that uploads and/or downloads images online should be familiar with the U.S. Copyright Office and Creative Commons.

“Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.” U.S. Copyright Office

“Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. Our legal tools help those who want to encourage reuse of their works by offering them for use under generous, standardized terms; those who want to make creative uses of works; and those who want to benefit from this symbiosis. Our vision is to help others realize the full potential of the internet. ” Creative Commons

“Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement.” University of Oxford


Champs-Élysées after France’s World Cup win in 2018 (Photo by JW Bailly/Bailly Media)

Photos posted online usually have a descriptive caption. Immediately after this is the credit line—who took the photograph and who owns it. In the above photo the credit line states it was taken by JW Bailly and is owned by Bailly Media. A credit line such as this informs viewers that this image is actually private property. An individual, company, or organization owns the copyright.

Newspapers will list a credit line with a photo. If they don’t have their own photographer they buy images from companies such as the Associated Press, Getty Images or Reuters. These images can cost around $500.00 each. In these cases, it is never OK to repost the image without the consent of the owner.


Champs-Élysées after France’s World Cup win in 2018 (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

Many images online, however, are free to download and repost. How do you know which images you can use and which ones you can’t? The credit line will tell you.

The image above was taken by JW Bailly, but not restricted by Bailly Media. The credit line makes reference to the Creative Commons licensing. The CC BY 4.0 grants people the freedom to use an image as long as they credit the creator or owner.

When including a free-to-use photo on your own webpage, just include the original credit line. You are free to change the caption as you wish. See the example below: same image, same credit line, different caption.

YOLO!! That’s me on the right covering my face!! Almost died, dude!!! Can’t believe I found this photo online (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

Almost all images on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons are licensed in this manner.

Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

Under the following terms:

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.


Some images will be posted with no credit line. Often, but not always, these images are in the “public domain.” Any image in the public domain is free for anyone to use without assigning credit to the original creator.

Creative Commons CC0 1.0: “You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.”

There are two reasons why an image may be in the public domain. Its copyright may have expired over time or the owner of the image voluntarily releases it for all to use. For example, in January 2020, the Paris Museums released over 100,000 images into the public domain.

In the US, images that were published over 95 years ago are generally in the public domain. Therefore any image published prior to 1925 is free to use in 2020.

“The length of copyright protection depends on when a work was created. Under the current law, works created on or after January 1, 1978, have a copyright term of life of the author plus seventy years after the author’s death. If the work is a joint work, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire and anonymous or pseudonymous works, copyright protection is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Works created before 1978 have a different timeframe. Learn more about copyright duration in our Duration of Copyrights Circular.” U.S. Copyright Office

“You can also use works that are in the public domain. Works in the public domain are those that are never protected by copyright (like facts or discoveries) or works whose term of protection has ended either because it expired or the owner did not satisfy a previously required formality. Currently, all pre-1926 U.S. works are in the public domain because copyright protection has expired for those works.” U.S. Copyright Office

WARNING: An image posted without a credit line, could possibly be a stolen image (whether intentional or not is legally irrelevant). Be careful. Use your judgement: What is the context? Is the webpage reliable? Does the image appear on other websites? As a last precaution, one should always check the file’s Metadata.

“Some image creators embed crucial information about their images into the file’s metadata (also known as EXIF data). On Windows, just right-click on the image and select “Properties”. In macOS, when you opened it in Preview, click on “Tools” in the menu, then “Show Inspector” and on the ⓘ icon. There, you’ll find the “EXIF” tab. You can often find the name of the copyright owner and even a full copyright notice here.” Pixsy


Elaine Morales Fraginals of the FIU Honors College in the Alps (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

When posting one of your own photos online, it is strongly suggested you protect yourself. If you post a photo without any licensing, there is very little stopping another person from taking your photo and using it for their own agenda.

What if another university took the above photo and used it in their promotional material? What if someone took a photo of you and posted it on a dating site? Or a hate site?

Always, always protect yourself and respect the work of others.

Two-Dimensional works (paintings, photographs, and prints) that are over 95 years old are usually in the Public Domain. The exception is when the creator died less than 100 years ago. Here is an example for Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

Since the Delacroix painting is in the Public Domain, Coldplay was able to use it in for their album graphics for free.

And then use it in their video!


There are millions of images online that are free for you to use. You just need to know how to find them.

Brittney Sanchez of the FIU Honors College at Vizcaya (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

The baillylectures & miamiinmiami websites! If you’re a current student of mine, you can log in and go into the Media Library to access the hundreds of images housed on the Miami in Miami website. In the search box, enter what interests you. Almost all images are CC BY 4.0 and already have the credit line listed in the description. The image above shows the results for Vizcaya. WARNING: If the image is already uploaded to this website, do not download and upload it again. Simply insert it into your webpage.

If you’re a student from another class or institution who wants to use a photo from this website, feel free to download it and use it—just remember to include the original credit line.

Screenshot from Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons is an endless resource for you. If you click on an image on Wikimedia, it opens a new webpage that will list the licensing of the image. You can see the one above is “CC BY-SA 4.0” —free to use! If you then open the “More Details” page you’ll see the specific attribution requested by the photographer.

Matthias Süßen licensing parameters

Essentially Matthias Süßen is letting you use his photograph for free. His simple condition in return is that you credit him as the creator of the image. That is more than a fair deal!! Thank you Matthias.

The following are other sites that have free to use images.

British Library
Creative Commons
Library of Congress
Paris Musées
Public Domain Review
Raw Pixel Public Domain
Smithsonian Open Access
Wikimedia Commons

Image by Rodrigo Pignatta from Pixabay

Remember when using images online: respect others and protect yourself. Make sure the image you are posting is free to use and include the credit line. Protect your own images with a simple credit line from Creative Commons.

Here is a description of licenses by Creative Commons. See the entire list here:


“This license lets others distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.”


“This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.”

No Rights Reserved/Public Domain

“CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law.”

A friend and Ashley Moreno of the FIU Honors College on Appia Antica. (Photo by JW Bailly/CC By 4.0)

Have fun!!!


Office, U.S. Copyright. “What Is Copyright?” What Is Copyright? | U.S. Copyright Office,

John William Bailly  25 November 2022

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