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Citations & Plagiarism: APA, MLA, and more

Use this guide to learn how to format your work in APA, MLA, and Chicago style, and to avoid plagiarism.

Using images & media responsibly

Part of using images and media responsibly is writing strongly and clearly about them in your work. If you include images or other media in your work, use these resources to help you properly cite your sources.

When can I use someone else's image in my own work?

In the United States, there are three main reasons you can use someone else's work (including images, videos, etc.) without asking for permission:

  1. the work is in the public domain
  2. your use of the work falls under the Fair Use doctrine of the U.S. Copyright Law
  3. the creator of the work has already defined the use rights through something like a Creative Commons license.

Although you may use many images without the author's permission, you still need to cite your sources and credit the author.

How do I cite an image or work of art?

Visit Reed College's Image Workstation Help for more information on citing your image sources. There are also examples of image citations in many styles, including:

Copyright, public domain, and Fair Use resources

Copyright Resources

The CUNY copyright guide offers practical advice and guidance for multiple audiences:

Public Domain

Things that fall in the "public domain" are not protected by copyright and are free to use. (You should still cite them in your work, though.) Works can enter the public domain in different ways--sometimes copyright has expired or never existed at all. How do you know if something is part of the public domain?

Fair Use

Section 107 of U.S. copyright law describes the Fair Use doctrine, which is essentially a list of how the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair to use. Uses such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research are generally covered by Fair Use. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Determining Copyright and Permissions

The University of Minnesota's Thinking Through Fair Use is a very thorough and useful tool to help you understand the "fairness" of your use of an image.

Copyright Crash Course

The University of Texas has an excellent copyright website that includes a crash course tutorial to help you determine if your use of an image or media falls under Fair Use.

Image resources

Flickr Creative Commons

Flickr contains millions of photos shared by users under Creative Commons licenses, including travel, nature, people, architecture, and design images. You can browse by license type or choose "Advanced Search" to limit to Creative Commons content.

Wikimedia Commons 

Millions of freely usable historical and contemporary images of architecture, art, design, people, events, diagrams, maps, and more.

Yale University Digital Commons 

Yale's digital collections, including Peabody Museum, Center for British Art, University Art Gallery, Library Map Collection, and Walpole Library Prints and Drawings.

Open Icon Library 

Open collection of icons in svg, png, xpm, ico, and icns formats.

Open Clip Art Library 

Open collection of public domain clip art.

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online 

Public domain images from the Library of Congress.

New York Public Library Digital Collections 

NYPL's digital collections include hundreds of thousands of high resolution, public domain images.

Creative Commons

creative commons license chart

You might sometimes see small icons next to media within Flickr or Wikipedia. These represent Creative Commons licenses for use.


Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the number of creative works that are available to the public for free and legal use—especially cultural, educational, and scientific content.


The licenses are designed to be straightforward and easily understood. You can use this chart as a guide, or read about Creative Commons licenses to learn more about how they are used.