Image hunting: Tips for sourcing historical images

At Talk Science to Me, we spend a lot of time sourcing images, both for our own use on our blog and website, and for our clients. The right image can be invaluable to a document, either by helping to break up long blocks of text or by giving the reader extra information about what they’re reading.

Statue of John Landy and Robert Bannister competing at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. This is one of the historical events captured on the new Hastings Park interpretive panels. (C) Paul Joseph, 2005 (CC BY 2.0)One of our recent projects gave us the opportunity to really put our image sourcing expertise to work. Talk Science was contracted by Public Architecture + Communication to find images for the new interpretive panels they are designing as part of the City of Vancouver’s Hastings Park project. We got to do some pretty neat

Copyright: Quotes

My alma mater’s policy on quotation is (loosely paraphrased): “Please for the love of all that is good and pure in the universe, properly attribute all words from external sources so that we don’t need to award you a special mega-F and chisel your academic malfeasance into your headstone.” Point being, at least in my experience, talking to students about quoting is mostly a matter of begging them to actually do it rather than plagiarizing. At no point in my undergrad career did anyone explain the concept of “academic fair use” to me. I happily typed away, quoting (and properly citing, of course) to my heart’s content.

A beautiful tardigrade, easily procured without incurring anyone’s wrath. © Jacopo Werther, 2013 (CC BY 2.0)

The thing about academic fair use is that it only covers you when you’re writing for a school of some kind. Even if you’re absolutely faultless in attributing the words you use, the sources from which you derive them and the use to which you put them both bear on

Image permission: Doing it right

Whether you’re putting together a permanent exhibit or a last-minute powerpoint, it’s all but inevitable that you’ll encounter a point at which the most sensible option is to use material that someone else created. This is more frequently the case with images since they’re usually harder to recreate yourself. And in the age of Google Images and instant screenshots, there’s almost nothing in practical terms that can stop you from using any picture you want. Here at Talk Science however, we recommend being careful with your media usage— and we negotiate image permission for many of our clients.

There are some misconceptions about this. Some people seem to think that the fact that an image has been posted online, or even published at all, makes it fair game. Or that simple attribution (like citing a published text) is sufficient, with no need to consult the originator. Or that all images are freely available for non-commercial use. None of these is the case—the last is true of specific Creative Commons licenses, but not all. And while we’re at it, you don’t need to mail yourself anything in order to secure rights to work that you’ve created.