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ABP (Architecture, Building and Planning) Study and Research Guide

This guide will help you with your studies in the Bachelor of Design, MSD and beyond.

Copyright and images

When do I need to think about copyright compliance and images?

If you are using images (including photographs, diagrams or illustrations) in your work and you choose to publish or distribute your work, you need to consider whether the images in your work are copyright compliant. Sharing your work on a website is considered publishing, so you need to think about the images you use if you are:

  • uploading your thesis to the Digital Repository
  • putting your work online on a public website (such as Issuu)
  • sharing your work on social media or on a blog


This short video looks at five ways on how to include copyright compliant images in your thesis or other work you might choose to publish. 



What type of images can I use that are copyright compliant?

You can use an image if:

  • You have created it
  • Copyright has expired
  • It is licensed under a Creative Commons License, or where the owner of the copyright has explicitly waived their copyright
  • You are critiquing or reviewing the image in your work (see Fair Dealing for more information)
  • You have written permission from the copyright owner


What information do I need to keep track of?

  • Even if you don't need to get permissions, keep track of the reason that each image is copyright compliant (ie. you are using it under a Creative Commons license, or the copyright has expired).
  • Supporting documents might take the form of a pdf of an email chain requesting permission to use the image, a screenshot of the webpage where you found the image showing that it is being used under a Creative Commons license, or information about the creator which leads you to believe the copyright has expired.
  • This way, if anyone questions your use of an image, you will have your supporting documents close at hand.

Creating and protecting your own images

If you create your own images, you own the copyright. For example:

  • Taking a photo of a model or other object you have created
  • A chart or graph you have created from statistics you have collected
  • Photograph of a building
Creating images with others
  • If a friend takes a photo of your work for you, make sure you get written permission from your friend, as they own copyright of the photo, even if it is of your work.
  • If you collaborate with other people you will need to get permission from any other creators involved in the project.  For example, on a film you would need to get permission from the performers, the composer of any soundtrack, etc. You will also need to carefully consider the different ways you might use this collaborative work in the future, so you can include that in your permission documentation.


Sharing your work

As the copyright owner you can decide how you want to share your work, and how you would like others to reuse it.

Encourage others to attribute the image to you, by including:

  • A copyright statement on your work
  • A full bibliographic citation
  • Instructions on how to seek permission
  • Contact information

Other methods that discourage reuse without attribution are:

  • Use metadata​ (information about the file which will demonstrate your ownership)
  • Include a watermark​
  • Use a low-resolution image
  • Choose a format that is more difficult to reproduce​ (like a PDF)​

For more information see the Right of Copyright Owners webpage.

Images in the public domain

How can I tell if an image is in the public domain?

If copyright has expired, then images are considered to be in the 'public domain' and can be used by anyone without seeking permission from the copyright owner. Even if copyright has expired on an image, you still need to attribute the creator.

Finding out if an image is still in copyright can be quite difficult. You may need to do some detective work. Some basic guidelines are:


  • If the photograph was taken before 1955 then copyright has expired. 
  • Otherwise copyright exists for the life of the author + 70 years.

Artistic works (such as cartoons, drawings, models and sculptures) where creator is known: 

  • If the creator died before 1955 then copyright has expired
  • Otherwise copyright exists for the life of creator + 70 years
For more information, see Duration of Copyright (PDF) by the Australian Copyright Council  
You can also contact the University's Copyright Office

Finding Creative Commons images


Creative Commons images have been licensed by the creator of the image so they can be used for a variety of purposes. Using Creative Commons images is one alternative to using copyrighted images. There are some restrictions, depending on the license type that has been chosen, and you must always provide credits for the creator of the image. The Copyright Office has created a guide to help you locate Creative Commons licensed images using Google - Searching Google for Creative Commons images.

Fair dealing for criticism and review


How does the Fair Dealing for Criticism or Review provision work?

The fair dealing provision allows the use of material under certain circumstances without seeking permission from the copyright owner. 

  • You can use all or part of a work for criticism or review, without seeking permission from the copyright owner. However, you must be actually critiquing or reviewing the work.
  • The Australian Copyright Council has advised that 'criticism and review involves making a judgement of the material concerned, or of the underlying ideas'.
  • With images, the image must be integral to your argument or what you are discussing, ie. you need to include this image in your work in order for the reader to fully understand the argument/idea you are discussing. 
  • If you could (hypothetically) use a different image then it’s more likely that you are using the image as an example or illustration, and this doesn’t fall under Criticism or Review.This provision does not cover the use of images for decorative purposes or to illustrate a point.

More information can be found on the Copyright Office's Fair Dealing page, or you can contact the Copyright Office directly.

Seeking permissions

If you would like to use an image which is still within copyright you will need to seek permission from the copyright owner. 

  • The Copyright Office has some useful information on how to go about requesting permission from a copyright owner to reproduce material.
  • It's recommended that you keep a record of any correspondence with the copyright owner, and obtain permission in writing (rather than verbally). 
  • If you don't receive a reply to a request for permission from the copyright owner, this doesn't mean you can reproduce the image. 


For example, here is an email requesting permission to reproduce a photograph:

an email from John Gollings granting permission to use his photograph of Peter Corrigan.

You will need to keep a written record of permission and all communications. In the written permission you should ensure there are full details of the proposed use and any future uses. This includes the where, why, how, and for how long.

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