This site lends itself to answers that contain quoted sections of materials from other sources, and in particular embedded images. However, I have been leery of including images in my own answers that aren't clearly public domain or creative commons (just finding them on the web doesn't make them mine).

For example, this excellent answer contains two images with copyright notices clearly visible in the image itself, so no question that the original author wanted to protect them.

Now, I don't want to get into a debate on whether people agree on copyright law or whether it even applies in their home countries, but I would like to know if SE in general and in particular this site have a policy about including copyrighted material directly in the body of an answer. Is there the possibility of putting this site at risk by doing so?

  • 1
    Thanks for pointing that out @Greg, though I have no idea if the copyright means it can't be used at all. I could find others or draw it myself, but that in some cases that wouldn't be feasible.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:22
  • @Ivo Understand, and don't mean to pick on you in particular. I just happened to notice it on that answer. The images (and quoted text) definitely enhance a lot of answers. I think there may be some legitimate educational uses regardless of copyright (under U.S. law), but I don't know the details.
    – G__
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:24
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    The quoted text is paraphrased, though not in some of the other answers. If I would have to do this to every post, it would become quite problematic. BTW: I got them all from Google Images, so they should blame them :P
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 8, 2011 at 17:27
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    Funny thing is... I was about to post "Can we please start using more pictures for better clarity in our posts?" Mar 8, 2011 at 18:50
  • @KronoS I agree, I love the pics! But I felt a little uneasy just grabbing random pics when e.g. I Google for some exercise that I want to illustrate. I think Fair Use is the key here, and it seems like single images for this purpose would fall under that.
    – G__
    Mar 8, 2011 at 18:54

3 Answers 3


I suggest reading this article which covers "Fair Use" of copyrighted material for teachers, and educational purposes, which, I believe, we fall under:

Fair use explicitly allows use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Rather than listing exact limits of fair use, copyright law provides four standards for determination of the fair use exemption:

  • Purpose of use: Copying and using selected parts of copyrighted works for specific educational purposes qualifies as fair use, especially if the copies are made spontaneously, are used temporarily, and are not part of an anthology.
  • Nature of the work: For copying paragraphs from a copyrighted source, fair use easily applies. For copying a chapter, fair use may be questionable.
  • Proportion/extent of the material used: Duplicating excerpts that are short in relation to the entire copyrighted work or segments that do not reflect the "essence" of the work is usually considered fair use.
  • The effect on marketability: If there will be no reduction in sales because of copying or distribution, the fair use exemption is likely to apply. This is the most important of the four tests for fair use (Princeton University).

Within that site there was a chart for specific material, I suggest taking a look at it.

  • Note that I sometimes look up images through Google Images, which sometimes uses cached versions where it's nearly impossible to figure out where it originated from. Perhaps I should scan some from the textbook, so at least I know how to give proper attribution
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 8, 2011 at 18:57

Personally, I wouldn't include pictures which are clearly copyrighted. However, if the copyright status is unclear, I would apply judgement on a case-by-case basis (mostly depending on the source they come from) and usually include them, with a remark that their copyright/license status is unknown (I did so in my answer to a question on this very site).

For professionally made diagrams and especially photos, I would err on the side of caution and just link to them without including them inline.

Of course, this doesn't apply for images clearly in the public domain, or compatible with the CC-by-CA license SE sites use -- I would include them without hesitation, citing the original source.

I don't think that SE sites would get into much trouble if a copyright holder notices their unlicensed content here -- they would most likely contact the site administrators, and the latter will promptly comply by removing the offending images.


I wanted to ask the same question today, now that I found it has been written before, I think I'll write an answer instead. As a disclaimer, I personally don't like most of the stuff I write below and I am not really giving a ***, but thats pretty much how it is.

First of all, StackExchange does not count as an educational site, as it is clearly commercial, remember that there are ads here and a whole company working behind it.

This question has an image, with the copyright notice removed. While I don't think it was intended by the author of the question, this clearly is rude behaviour.

This answer extensively uses copyrighted images.

All images on the Internet have to be considered copyrighted as with their creation the creator gains it. Unless he stated that it really is public domain, an image is to be considered non-free. How do we know if an image is free or non-free if there is no notice? We don'tâ€Ĥ So we have to assume it is non-free.

There are a lot of answers that contain images, even with the copyright notice included. As long as the author of the question doesn't state that he contacted the source, we have to assume that he is not allowed to.
I don't find the answer, but there was one, that had a lot of the gif'ed images taken from exrx.net. I don't think that they would be happy about this if they knew.

Images are nice, I agree with that. But do some randomly collected Images really make up for the name of the exercise in combination with a link to a site where the exercise can be found? (I am aware of link rot)

I have no final answer to this, but I would prefer if we removed images from answers, if they are non-free. I know how stupid this might sound, but on the other hand, we make StackExchange responsible for legal issues if we do nothing.

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