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Best Practices

Copyright, specifically Title 17 of the United States Code, is a law that protects the rights of the author to control the use of their original work.


Many of the elements that go into web design may be protected by copyright law. This includes images, icons, videos, animations, quotes, music, etc. Using these elements without abiding by copyright law could result in being heavily fined


How do you know something is protected under copyright?1

  • Look for a copyright notice. These are often found along the bottom of a webpage, inside the title page of a book, along the bottom of an image, etc.
  • Find the date.  Works with a copyright date before 1923, works published more than 95 years ago, unpublished works with a known author who died more than 70 years ago or are 120 years from the creation date have entered the public domain. Be careful of trademarks and patents as those are protected under different laws.
  • Search the copyright database

How can you use a copyrighted work?

  • University of Utah owned work. If the copyrighted work, lets say an image, is owned by the University of Utah and so is the website you are working on, you can use that image on the website because they are owned by the same entity.
  • Creative Commons. This type of copyright allows for the use of the work by the public with attribution. You will often see this type of license on stock photography websites. Visit the creative commons website for more information.
  • Public Domain. When something is licensed under the public domain it means it is free to use without any attribution or credit given to the original author.
  • Ask permission or obtain a license. You can use a copyrighted work if you have the permission of the author or you have purchased a license. For example, when you purchase an image from a stock website you are purchasing a license to use that image. Some stock photography websites limit how many times you can use that image. Make sure you select the use that is right for you.
  • Cite your sources. If you quote something or use an idea from a copyrighted source make sure you are citing it correctly. This video from the U of G Library gives a great overview on when to cite a source.2
  • Fair Use. Something is considered a fair use of a copyrighted work when it is used in a 'transformative way'. There are many things that fall into this category. Please refer to the for further information. 
  • When in doubt refer to or simply don't use it.

What about images?

In selecting an image to add to you site's pages, it's important to determine if you have copyright permission to use that image. A copyright is owned by the creator of an original work who has the exclusive rights for its use. Others can purchase usage permissions. The rights may be sold to other rights holders, as is done with stock photography. Or the owner may release the image into the public domain.

If an image is used on a campus website without permission, the University can be held liable and ultimately be required to pay compensation and/or damages. How then do you determine the copyright status for photos?

Campus Photos

University Marketing & Communications provides a Public Gallery in the Campus Photos image library. These images are available for use on campus websites.

Google Search

It’s easy and very tempting to do a Google image search and use an image that comes up in the search results. Use Google’s Tools setting to examine copyrights for images that you find there.

When opening an image that comes from a Google search result, look for additional copyright information. This may be a phrase "Some rights reserved" which links to the Creative Commons license, or this license can be displayed directly below the image. The Creative Commons license will list all restrictions and may include an attribution requirement. The specific form of attribution will be listed in the license. 

There’s another gotcha in the results in getting images from a search engine's results page. You may specify “University of Utah Campus” in the search. Most of the images near the top will probably be from the U but some images displayed may be other university campuses. Some universities have been embarrassed by publishing a brochure or web page and then being caught using an image from another institution.

You can also view other best practices to legally use Google images

Stock Photography

You can purchase images from stock photography websites. When you do so, you are purchasing the right to use the photo. Be sure to read the usage rights before purchase. There are many stock photography vendors.

Original Photography

The safest path and one that opens up the opportunity for fresh, new images is to use original photography. You and the photographer agree on usage rights and associated fees before the photo shoot. If you can take photos yourself, then you have this option open.


Last Updated: 3/14/24