I agree it is very useful to use pictures when explaining something. The most typical example for electronics.se is clipping schematics and diagrams from data sheets. However, by the strict letter of the law, a data sheet is copyrighted in its entirety. It's probably never a real problem, because data sheets are also intended to be promotional material, so the more a certain manufacturer's data sheet gets mentioned, the better is is for them. But still, I would like us to be on the safe side. Thus, my question:

  • Is it o.k. to clip information (pictures, tables, whatever) form a copyrighted source?

And a related questions that may lead to an answer:

Even sources like wikipedia need to be considered, because, without being an expert, my guess would be it is o.k. to use freely licensed material only as long as you mention the author or source.

I have the feeling that the most troublesome feature of the site could be the one that clips entire pictures from other websites, because the way the feature is designed, the source is not linked automatically.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess it would depend on the particular licence being used, but on the most part images on Wikipedia are protected using the Creative Commons licence - of which there are 6 different types depending on the requirements of the user- All will require attribution to the original author. \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Jul 15 '11 at 9:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wikipedia is full use for free with attribution, the same as stack exchange. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 15 '11 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Jul 15 '11 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ See also the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… which probably protects Stack Exchange from users posting pictures of Mickey Mouse in their answers. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Jul 15 '11 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk You are correct with one small addition. It is a "ShareAlike" license which means that if you copy it you have to share it in the same form. This works out for us since SE is already shared in the same manor. Figure I would mention in case someone took what you said to mean they could copy the stuff and put it on their own website. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Jul 15 '11 at 14:28

The bottom line is you are responsible for anything you post. Here is some of the legal speak:

Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party, (b) reveals any trade secret, unless Subscriber owns the trade secret or has the owner’s permission to post it, (c) infringes any intellectual property right of another or the privacy or publicity rights of another, ...

Basically when you post something you specifically state that you have the right to do so. You also are saying that you grant SE the right to do with the content however they want.

A fair use claim can be made for some content, but my personal opinion is that we should be able to generate the content ourselves. This means schematics get drawn out by hand or use a schematic capture software. If you don't have any software to use then check out this question. For figures, they can be drawn out by hand or in paint or excel or matlab or you get the point.

As far as you bringing up questions about Wikipedia, they share their content under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike License and if you notice in the bottom right of the SE pages, we are shared under the same license. Don't hold me responsible for this, but I believe this means that you can copy and cite from wikipedia and be in the free and clear. I still think we should be able to create our own content though.


It is OK to use fragments of copyrighted material under fair use.


The four factors judges consider are:

  1. the purpose and character of your use
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I thought images were considered individual works and copying an entire image always constitutes infringement. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 17 '11 at 6:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, but one should not forget that first, some jurisdictions don't recognize fair use and second, in edge cases one can have hard time proving fair use and get into trouble. \$\endgroup\$ – sharptooth Aug 10 '11 at 12:11

If you do it right you can embed a picture from another website without copying the picture - the picture remains on the target website only.

The format is: "![Picture Title][index]" and further down "[index]: picture URL"


![My Picture][1]

  [1]: http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_com/images/srpr/logo1w.png

Which gives:

My Picture

Not copied to imgur, and the picture owner can't really complain.

So, if in doubt about if you are allowed to copy a picture or not, don't - use the picture directly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This still does not solve the problem of accrediting the originator of the design/image, it won't matter if you host it as long as it's nonprofit and for educational purposes. \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Jul 15 '11 at 9:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The accreditation is in the URL ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Majenko Jul 15 '11 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see, point taken :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Jul 15 '11 at 9:43
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @MattJenkings, many users would prefer if you are going to use it for your site that you do not such their bandwidth. But honestly, this is against the greater good. Our professional host for SE ensures our pictures keep loading, long after the source is dead. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 15 '11 at 10:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is true - and is great for the pictures you know you are allowed to pilfer. \$\endgroup\$ – Majenko Jul 15 '11 at 10:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are many sites that actually specifically disallow using pictures hosted on their server. I don't think this is a good recommendation at all, at least not in any general sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Jul 15 '11 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's called hotlinking and is considered very bad manners by many people. \$\endgroup\$ – sharptooth Aug 10 '11 at 12:13

FWIW I tend to add a link to where I got images from - most don't seem to.

PDFs etc with images that are part of a page make it not possible to link to an image directly or even to copy the image directly.

I either screen capture and upload an image version of a PDF image or save to a dropbox location and link to that. I've generally stopped doing the latter.


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