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Photo & Image Licensing

Content Creators’ Guide to Photo and Image Licensing

Montclair State University respects the talents of artists, and we also respect their rights under U.S. and international copyright laws. The University expects all of our content creators to do the same.

To help content creators find the images they need to create incredible content—while remaining in compliance with copyright laws—we’ve created this guide.

Why is Copyright Important?

For artists, writers, photographers, and other creatives, U.S. and international copyright laws help to protect their rights to the works they create. And copyright laws give creatives the ability to bring legal action if they believe their artistic works have been used without their permission.

How Does that Affect Me?

As a content creator, you play an important role in protecting artists and protecting the University. Whenever you choose photos, artwork, clipart, or other artistic works for use on the University’s many digital channels (websites, calendars, blogs, newsletters, social media accounts, etc.) you must acquire the appropriate rights to use those works. If you do not acquire these rights, your department, college, school, and the University are vulnerable to legal action.

TL;DR: All content creators must obtain licenses for all of the images they wish to use in digital channels (websites, calendars, blogs, social media, newsletters, etc.)

What Photos or Images Can I Use?

  1. Photos you have taken yourself. If you are taking photos that you are specifically assigned to you for the University’s use or with University facilities or financial support, the photo’s copyright is owned by the University unless otherwise indicated in an employee’s collective bargaining agreement. So, snap away!
  2. Photos and images owned by the University that are available at Smug Mug are completely free for use by University content creators.
  3. Images with “Open Content” licenses or categorized as “Public Domain” found on Wikimedia Commons.
    • You do not need to contact the image’s creator individually to obtain licensing rights to these 2 categories of images in Wikimedia Commons
    • You may be required to attribute (photo credit) the creator of the image
    • You may be required to link to a generic licensing agreement found on the WikiCommons website
  4. Images categorized as “Attributions” or “Attributions-ShareAlike” or “Public Domain Dedication CCO” on Creative Commons
    • You do not need to contact the image’s creator individually to obtain licensing rights to these 3 categories of photos in Creative Commons
    • You may be required to attribute (photo credit) the creator of the image
    • You may be required to link to a generic licensing agreement found on the Creative Commons website
    • When you search on Creative Commons, filter to view only images categorized as “Use for Commercial Purposes”
    • More information on Creative Commons licensing can be found in the “About the Licenses” section of their website
  5. Stock Photo Resources
    • Burst has a library of free, high-resolution photos, many of which require no license or attribution. Be sure to check the “license” link to the left of each photo before downloading
    • You can find thousands of stock photos, professional and amateur photos, and other images free for commercial uses at,, and SnappyGoat
    • is a community of artists and photographers who make their works free for use without restriction or attribution
    • For icons, the Noun Project offers thousands of artist-created icons, many free under Creative Commons licenses. Some may require attribution/credit
    • There are thousands more free icons at Open Icon Library
    • Free clip art for unlimited commercial use can be found at
  6. Images found via Google Image Search—but only after you have obtained the rights to license the commercial use of the photo from the copyright holder.
    • You should start by setting the filter “Labeled for Re-Use” in the “tools” menu of Google Image Search
    • When you find an image, click through to the image’s location to read the licensing agreement
    • Contact the license holder to obtain a licensing agreement to use the photo
    • Do not download and use any image from Google without licensing it from the creator first

Copyright and Digital: Myths vs Facts

If there’s no © on the image, it’s not copyrighted. I can use it anywhere I want.
Images do not need to display a © symbol to be copyrighted. In fact, the moment someone creates an image or artwork, it’s protected by copyright.
If it’s on Google, it’s in the public domain, so I can use it on my blog or site.
Google indexes all images, including those that are protected by copyright. Please don’t download or use images directly from search engines or other websites without obtaining a licensing agreement from the creator of the image first.
It’s a stock photo, so I can use it without a license or credit to the photographer.
Many stock photos are intended for sale. Always go to the image’s source and read the information on licensing and attribution (photo credit). And acquire the appropriate license before use.
I’m at a non-profit or a school or university, so it’s “Fair Use,” and I can put in on my website, social media, or in a newsletter.
Fair Use is complicated and rests on many potential factors. Rather than weigh all of the factors—and possibly face fines and litigation—assume it is not Fair Use and always acquire the rights to images you plan to use in digital spaces.
It’s a picture of me, so I can use it however I want.
The holder of the copyright is the person who creates the photo, not the person in the photo. For example, if the photo of you was taken by a professional photographer at an event, you might be given a copy of the photo for your personal use. But you may not necessarily use the photo on digital channels without a licensing agreement from the photographer or from the organization that owns the photo.
If I make alterations to the image, I don’t need to worry about copyright.
Downloading or copying someone else’s work, and then modifying it, may still be an infringement on the creator’s copyright protections.
My organization, site, blog, or social media has such a small digital presence that no one’s really going to care.
There are businesses that specifically search the internet for copyright violations. These businesses make money by notifying the copyright holder and taking a commission on the fee paid by the violator.