From copyright to cartoons

From copyright to cartoons

You’ve been asked to produce a poster, presentation slides, or an illustrated piece of coursework. Exciting times, except from where can you take the images and video clips you want to include? Everyone’s eyes turn towards Google at this point but therein lies something of a trap – almost everything published on the web is protected by copyright.

Copyright is a nasty beast, lurking in the shadows to entrap the unwary. Almost everything available online is owned by somebody else, and most do not take kindly to discovering things they own being used without their permission. In law, using someone else’s work – words, images, sound, music or video – is treated much like borrowing their bike without permission. In short, it’s not allowed.

This is not as intuitive as it is for a tangible, physical object like someone’s bike because if I copy an image you have uploaded to your website, I haven’t deprived you of the use and enjoyment of it. Copyright is one of a whole bunch of intellectual property rights, along with trademarks and patents, that protect the income someone might expect to earn from their writing, computer code, images, videos, music, etc. But by using their images, sound or video without paying them for the privilege (and prices are admittedly typically rather steep!), you are depriving them of income the law entitles them to reasonably expect.

Essentially, copyright is there to protect the income streams of creatives. It is why artists are now able to sue AI giants that copied artists’ original works and fed them into their systems to train them to make derivative works. Naturally enough, no law is all good, and lawyers in big corporations have used copyright for every imaginable purpose to protect their companies’ assets, including suing environmental groups for making public unpublished company information since this involved making unpublished material – something particularly heavily protected by copyright law – available to the public.

Why have copyright laws?

Many have asked, and continue to ask, whether copyright law remains fit for purpose in the modern age. UK copyright law was last formally reviewed all the way back in 2006 in response to the digital revolution, which made copying anything published digitally far easier than it had been for print works, while others expressed concern about the threat of heavy-handed copyright protection to satire, parody and other permitted purposes for copying and adapting existing content. Streaming platforms have been criticised for their unilateral approaches to taking down parody videos that arguably should have been respected, damaging the revenue streams of parody artists and, in some cases, forcing them onto other platforms.

Sidestepping copyright in your assignments (and life)

Returning to your assignment, you might be starting to worry about where you can find images that are copyright free. Well, there are lots of sources. There are even some, like The Met Collection, that are copyright free for everyone to use and reuse.

We have many video resources you can view, show, and many more you can clip and reuse

Take a look at all the sound resources available through the Library for you to use and reuse as well. Please don’t be put off if the login looks a little tricky for a resource – have a go and if you run into any difficulties, chat to a librarian online or pop in between 11am – 3pm Monday – Friday and a librarian will walk you through the process.

Copyright free images

Images Most people I have met are looking for images they can use in presentations and poster displays, so I’ve pulled out a selection of the main (we have more!) eresources you can find through the library.

Many museums and art galleries have begun to digitise their collections to share them with the world and waiving their copyright, and you can find a really good list of copyright free image collections you can search in this Apollo magazine article.

For (almost) everything

Artstor offers nearly 3 million images related to visual arts and culture for you to create, save and share. At one time, Artstor was predominantly fine art but the huge increase in the number of cultural photographs and other images makes it a great starting point for a wide range of academic disciplines. You can create, save and share groups of images and create presentations within the website. If you want to search for academic articles and images simultaneously, follow the link via the “J” JSTOR icon to the top left of the page.

Credo Reference also includes substantial image collections alongside its encyclopedia entries. Search for your topic, then choose images from the results screen.

For design

VADS – includes access to over 100,000 images from a range of collections, including the Design Council Archive, Imperial War Museum, London College of Fashion, National Fine Art Collection and Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection all free from copyright to use in your assignments.

The Met Collection – includes online access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections, all of which have been made available for use without copyright restriction.

For maps

Digimap – Digimap comprises digital maps of the whole UK, from geological and historical maps to marine and ordnance survey mapping, demographic population data and aerial photography, which you can overlay, annotate and export sections from for your assignments.

For science and health

Wellcome Collection – explore more than 50,000 artworks and photographs ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and science, mostly available for reuse under Creative Commons licenses.

Check the Library website for more

We maintain current lists of all our audio, video and image resources on the Library website (under Using resources > Audio-Visual resources).

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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