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Copyright & IP @ Whitman: Images



Seeking Permission

The Seeking Permission section contains links to permission vendors and tools for rights holders.


Reasonable use of images and media in teaching, course papers and theses is generally covered by fair use.  Researchers are expected to document each image (including their own) and its provenance/source to the best of their abilities.  When possible, it is advisable to contact the owner or creator. 

The Visual Resource Association (VRA) in its statement on fair use of images for teaching, research and study notes that use of images in scholarship is fundamental to the advancement of collective knowledge.  The VRA suggests that researchers are best positioned to assert fair use if:

  • Significant commentary, or other original content, accompanies the images included in the thesis or paper;
  • Conversely, images included in a thesis or paper are subject of commentary or illustrate a scholarly argument, and are not included for purely aesthetic purposes;
  • Images are incorporated at a size or resolution necessary to make the best scholarly argument;
  • When known, attributions are provided to the copyright owner;
  • The circulation and distribution of the thesis through online websites or repositories is consistent with academic practices or requirements set forth by the degree-granting institution;


Generally, images copied from other sources may not be made available for any commercial purposes, including publishing.  Whitman requires that college honors theses be deposited into the Institutional Repository, a form of scholarly publishing.  Someone else's images, just like someone else's ideas, works or music, must be identified and cited.  Waivers or permissions from the copyright holder(s) of the image(s) may need to be obtained.

Depending upon the information available, these elements should be used to identify and cite an image:

  • Creator's name
  • Title of the image
  • Ownership information (e.g., artist estate, museum, or library collection)
  • Material (e.g., photograph, oil and canvas, or digital)
  • Dimensions of the work
  • Source of image.  If the image was accessed online, URL and date of access.

See our Style and Citation Guide for additional information regarding documenting sources.


Photographs and Digital Copies of Public Domain Art Works:  While many of the art works in museums are in the public domain, photographs of these artworks may be copyrighted and require a license for subsequent use.  The same is true of digital copies of works found on museum and other websites.  Check with the museum to see if allowances are made for personal and/or educational use.

U.S. Federal Government:  Photos taken by U.S. government employees are in the public domain.  Exceptions include works produced by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service after 1978.

These companies have large image archives and manage reproduction rights.  While the materials they hold are copyrighted, permission to reproduce at little or no fee is often granted to students.

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