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January 21, 2016

Navigating Copyright for Reproduced Images: Part 1. Understanding Copyright Status

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

This post is part of a series on how to cite an image reproduced from another source in APA Style. 

The first step in navigating copyright for reproduced images in APA Style is to understand the copyright status of the image you want to reproduce.

You may be surprised to learn that just because you found something on the Internet or read it in a book does not mean that you are entitled to reproduce it for free in a paper. In fact, U.S. copyright law states that whomever owns the copyright to an image has the right to say how it is used.


To determine whether you are allowed to reproduce an image, look for the copyright on the work. Here are some examples of copyright statements you might see:

  • Regular copyright or “all rights reserved” copyright
    • This kind of copyright is indicated by the word copyright or the copyright symbol.
    • Examples: Copyright 2015 by the American Psychological Association. © 2014 Elizabeth T. Jones, all rights reserved.
    • To reproduce a copyrighted image, you have to get permission in writing from the copyright holder first, unless you meet one of the exceptions described in Part 2 of this series. You also have to give full credit to the copyright holder in the form of a copyright statement in your paper (see Part 4 of this series for the format).

  • Creative commons copyright
    • Creative commons licenses are indicated by the words creative commons or CC.
    • In general, creative commons licenses allow you to reproduce and/or adapt a work (including images) without getting permission from the copyright holder, so long as you give credit to the original author in the form of a copyright statement (see Part 4 of this series).
    • The specific terms of creative commons licenses vary, so check the license associated with your image to determine what you are allowed to do.

  • Public domain
    • Works that are not bound by copyright are considered in the public domain. This means you can reproduce them and/or adapt them however you want, so long as you credit the original author in the form of a copyright statement (see Part 4 of this series).
    • Assume a work is under copyright unless you see the words public domain on it or the work was produced by the U.S. Government (in which case it is automatically in the public domain). Copyright does expire, but that can take a long time.

  • No copyright indicated
    • If no copyright is indicated, treat the work as copyrighted.
    • U.S. copyright law states that a work is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible form (e.g., you can see it on a computer screen or on paper), even if the work doesn’t say copyright or have the copyright symbol, and even if it is not mass produced or professionally published. For example, you automatically own the copyright to papers you write for a class.


Continue to Part 2: Determining Whether Permission Is Needed

Continue to Part 3: Securing Permission

Continue to Part 4: Writing the Copyright Statement




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