Consider the copyright status of images in your publicly visible Canvas syllabus pages

by | Jul 21, 2017 | Canvas tips, Get started with Canvas

We spoke to Melanie Johnson, Copyright Officer at the University of Auckland. She has the following advice for stress-free image usage on your Canvas course syllabus pages. 

University staff are encouraged to make their course syllabus page/s publicly available. It is a good way to show prospective students a brief summary of the course. These pages are not web searchable, but may have been linked to from other pages.

Canvas courses or syllabus pages can be made publicly visible by changing the default settings of the course in course Settings > Course Details (see How do I customize visibility options for course content? on Canvas Community). All teachers who are able to post content on your course pages have this ability. If either you or one of your colleagues has chosen to make either your syllabus or your course available publicly you need to consider the copyright status of those images you have chosen to showcase your course.

If you have copied those images from the Internet it is likely that they are protected by copyright unless copyright has expired or they are not subject to copyright in the first instance. Copyright generally expires 50 years after the death of the author in New Zealand. Some works are free of copyright, for example works created by the U.S Federal Government. New Zealand legislation, parliamentary materials and judgments of tribunals and courts of law are free of copyright.

The difficulty of copying works from the web is that they may have code embedded in them which makes them discoverable by web crawlers programmed to look for the code. If you copy and upload these images on to a publicly facing site you may face a request to pay a fee in excess of US$1,000. This fee will be paid out of your departmental budget.

There are millions of images available on the web that are safe to use on a publicly facing website. Below are some suggestions about where to find these images and where to look for the information that tells you what conditions may apply to that use. There are lots of options and these are just a small selection of what is available.


There are a number of websites that make images freely available or offer them under a creative commons licence.


Image libraries

  • DigitalNZ has millions of items from almost 300 New Zealand digital collections including, aerial photographs, posters, newspapers and artworks. Many are free to use, but not all. Guidelines on reusing items found on DigitalNZ.
  • The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has nearly forty thousand images freely downloadable from its Collections Online digital database, giving the public access to the highest-resolution images it can and opening the way for creative reuse.
  • Cabinet has directed that all NZ Crown works should be made available under a creative commons licence. The NZGOAL website has information about obtaining permission to use Crown works not already made available under a CC licence.
  • ARTSTOR – Shared Shelf Commons is a free, open-access library of images.
  • Free Images by Getty Images is a collection of 400,000 images available to use legally and for free.

Public domain

Works that are in the public domain may be freely copied and used. Images are in the public domain if copyright has expired or they have never been protected by copyright.

If the image you want to use is a photograph then you may use the DigitalNZ copyright status flow chart to determine whether or not the photograph you want to use is out of copyright. Photographs taken prior to 1944 are considered out of copyright.

Some government works are in the public domain for example, the United States Government offers a number of images covering a wide range of topics, from medicine to agriculture, which are not protected by copyright and are free to copy and use. Image sources include collections such as the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, National Institute of Health, and NASA, among many others. The University of Pennsylvania libraries has a useful website for finding US Government public domain images also.

Public domain links