Navigating Copyright Rules for ePosters: A Comprehensive Guide to Finding and Using Images

So you’re in the process of making your eposter and you need that one perfect image that sums up exactly what you’re trying to say, but how do you find it and how can you be sure you can use it? Copyright is a minefield of confusion. Creative Commons licenses, commercial licenses, fair-use rights, it’s hard to know what it all actually means for you and your eposter.

Understanding Creative Commons Licenses for ePosters

Way back in 2001, Creative Commons was set up as an early participant of the “copyleft” movement with the purpose of offering solutions to copyright.

Essentially Creative Commons quickly helps identify and explain to what extent you can use something by allowing combinations of permissions to be clearly indicated with an object. There are four criteria that can be applied which can be combined to create specific rules for use:

Rules of use

For an academic poster, providing there is no commercial intent to the end product, all Creative Commons licensed images can be used providing the correct attribution is listed (a handy guide on how to attribute can be found here).

How do I find a Creative Commons licensed image?

CC licensed images are the best place to start when finding an image for your poster as you can be sure that you won’t be breaching any copyright. The easiest way to get started is with Google! It is possible to filter images in a Google search by those with a CC license.

  1. Search for an image using keywords
  2. Click “Tools”
  3. Select “Usage rights”
  4. Select “Creative Commons licenses”

Below each image will be a link, “License details,” which will take you to the full CC license letting you know exactly which criteria apply.

Broadening Your Image Search: Alternative Sources for Stunning Visuals

Google image search obviously has its limitations, and in an academic paper you may want to ensure your images are of a higher quality than most of those you’ll find in a quick Google search.

Stock image databases

There are dozens of free stock image resources available. These sites usually provide free images with permissions to use and modify. In some cases attribution isn’t required, but it’s a good idea to double check, and it can be courteous to the creator to do this regardless. Here are just a few example sites:

Wikimedia Commons

Owned by the folks who run Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons has millions of free to use media files. When you begin a search it is possible to narrow results according to specific usage criteria by clicking the “License” button.

Libraries, museums, and more

There has been a big push in recent years to digitize and share material stored in institutions across the world. What’s great about this is that many of these institutions allow the use of their images as they are many are considered to be in the Public Domain. You need to check the copyright permissions for the image you are trying to use, but the vast majority are free to use for non-commercial purposes. Here are just a few institutions you can check:

Finally, possibly our personal favorite little-known resource, NASA. That’s right, there’s literally a universe's worth of images you can use for non-commercial purposes directly from their website. Go and explore!