Using images in presentations – the legal issues

First of all, I am not a lawyer. Now that I have completely disqualified myself, and warned you that any information given hereafter may or may not be true in a given country at a given time for given people in given settings for given tasks, I can now broach the subject.

The other day I was looking at a medical clipart site which contained ancient black and white clipart images which had obviously fallen out of the copyright realm and were in the public domain – IT WAS NOT. Why? The people who had scanned the black and white pictures from ancient manuals in the public domain, considered that the work of scanning, cleaning the drawing (removing the aged paper color to make it white again), cropping the final art and giving it the clipart resolution was considered DERIVATIVE WORKS of a public domain image. In other words, if your aim is education, feel free to use it, but if you use it for a commercial presentation – find the book at your national library and scan it yourself :).

And now for another surprise. You visit an art gallery where a 1789 painting (surely no copyright issue here, right?) attracts your attention and you take a high resolution photo which you use on your slide and distribute or make available to others. Understand that the law in the US and in the UK is different. In the US, you could do that without problem. In the UK, the art gallery could make trouble for you unless you only use a low resolution image.

In this blog I use images that are under CC licence (Creative Commons). If you are not familiar with Creative Commons, STOP whatever you are doing and visit http://search.creativecommons.org/# From that page, you have access to the images that you can reuse under very well defined conditions. For example, I selected the button “Use for commercial purposes”, and deselected the button “modify, adapt or build upon”,  clicked on the button “Flickr”, selected “the Commons” in the menu on the left of the search line and then typed “eye” in the search window. I found a great image named “Elod-Eye” by Frederic Dupont (a.k.a darkpatator). Then scrowling down the page, at the bottom right,  I found the license type, in this case “Some rights reserved”. Clicking on the licence name in grey takes you to the page Some rights reserved which explains what are these rights. You can then use that picture on your slide according to the stated rights.Here are several sites where you can find public domain images: http://wellcomeimages.org and also the images of the British Library https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/sets/ and of course the huge Flickr internet archive book images

 

There are other issues of course. The first one is the display of recognizable people on an image. Each one of us has “personality rights“, which include the right to control the commercial ( and even non commercial) use of our image and likeness. They vary from country to country, and from State to State. So even if you yourself took the photo, as long as it contains a recognizable person, before using that photo for a presentation, it would be wise to make sure that this person has given you permission to use that photo in a presentation (there are release forms available online that you can base your form on).

Now for the case where your slide features diagrams from other published papers (say as background information), or images from a webpage, should you mention the source of the diagram or of the web-image on your slide under the image or diagram? ABSOLUTELY. If it is from a scientific journal,  you could write the last name of the author and initials, the year of publication, and the abbreviated journal name, in readable font size. If it is from a website, the URL of the site. You would not want to be accused of plagiarism in a public forum, now would you?

By Jean-luc lebrun

Author: Jean-Luc Lebrun

This century: Writer on Scientific writing skills and scientific presentation skills, MC for scientific events, Podcaster, Radio Consultant, Trainer for Research Institutes in Engineering and Life Sciences, Singapore, and in European doctoral schools, as well as in South East Asia Universities.
Last Century: Apple Computer, Advanced Technology Group, Technology Information manager. Then Director of the Apple-ISS Research Centre – a joint venture between Apple Computer and the National University of Singapore. Producer of TV program on IT for Singapore Channel 5.

2 thoughts on “Using images in presentations – the legal issues”

  1. Can I assume from the “personality rights” section of this article that you have safely kept on file at least 16 release forms for the students seen in the picture at the top of the page? What is needed is practical guidance as to how someone can put together a visually striking non commercial academic presentation without spending weeks researching and approaching copyright holders.

    1. Amazing what a little bit of pixellating can do to disguise the identity of people and avoid the personality rights issue. I wholeheartedly share your frustration. I have done some image transformation using GIMP – the free equivalent of Adobe’s flagship product – and made sure I used an exif editor prior to that. There are many such editors around. I have even redone a music piece by Mozart based on the public domain MIDI file played in Sibelius. Painstakingly slow, but still faster than asking for permission and arguing about the inconsiderate fees!

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