Protected Images

Information Literacy Module V: Preparing to Use Information Ethically

So far, we’ve been dealing in words and ideas, but what about using a source’s chart, graph, or picture?

Copyright protects authorship of words as well as images, including charts, graphs, and pictures, and although “Fair Use” allows you permission to use someone else’s image, there is a certain amount of gray area concerning this subject. Do you remember the hubbub over street artist Shepard Fairey’s image of then-candidate Barack Obama? Fairey created the image by artistically enhancing a photo of Obama taken by an Associated Press photographer. The AP claims it owns the rights to the photo, but Fairey claims that fair use policies protect his use of the image. The result of this debate has been a legal tangle lasting months and possibly even years. This example proves to remind us that it’s important to determine whether using another source’s image in our work is acceptable, but perhaps more importantly we should question whether this sort of borrowing is even helpful in all cases. Let’s take a look . . .

Pictures in Essays: Most formatting styles (like MLA and APA) favor simple design; in documents like these, artwork on the cover page or within the essay itself may be considered cutesy, gratuitous, or an attempt to divert attention away from the writing. After all, the focus of an essay should be on the ideas, not on aesthetics. If you feel a picture is necessary in communicating your point, present your case to your instructor and ask for his or her okay before using it.

Charts or Graphs in Essays: Sometimes numbers can be more easily described in a chart or a graph than in words. But remember, your ideas – the conclusions you come to as a result of the learning you do through research – are most important in your essay. Sometimes, copying a chart or a graph from a source (even when you cite it and document it correctly) is a sign that your research is taking over your essay and drowning you out. A good question to ask is, “Is this chart or graph important enough to my paper that its relevance will overshadow the distraction it will cause?” If not, try summarizing the overall point you’d like to make about the numbers presented in your source’s graph or chart. Your readers can always use your works cited page or bibliography to find the source and see the original graph or chart.

Charts, Graphs, and Images in Presentations: If you’re giving a presentation and you plan to use PowerPoint or some other visual aid, a good chart, graph, or image might be pretty useful! Be sure to give credit to the source of each image, though. If all you need is a picture to illustrate a point, you might also consider the stock images available through clip art.


Guiding Your Research
Consider your own research assignment. Can you imagine how a picture, a graph, or a chart may be useful in your finished product? Would you prefer to use your own image, or one you find in your research? In what way will use of this image add to or detract from the main idea of your paper? Explore these ideas in a brief journal (five to seven sentences), and share them with your instructor.
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