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Photographs and Images: Copyright and Publishing an Image in a Book, Journal, Video, etc.

UNM'S collection of photographs, postcards, slides, lithographs, etchings, engravings, and other pictorial documentation.


UNM has developed a Copyright Resources Guide, with extensive information on copyright basics, fair use, creating and using copyrighted works, among other topics.  Check it out!

What You Need to Know

In the vast majority of cases, the Center for Southwest Research does not hold copyright of the images in our collections.  You can use images under the Fair Use clause of the copyright code for teaching and research.  If you intend to publish the images in a book or journal, use them in a permanent exhibit or website, or use them in broadcast, you will need to contact the copyright holder to get permission. The pictorial archivists can often help you determine who the copyright holder is.

If you intend to use images for commercial purposes, you will need to contact a Pictorial Archivist.

Please note that this information should only serve as a guideline. If you intend to publish an image currently under copyright, please seek legal counsel. 

  • If the image is in the Public Domain, you can publish it without permission from the author.
  • If the image is under copyright, you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder.
  • If the Center for Southwest Research holds the copyright to an image you intend to publish you need to obtain permission from CSWR and fill out the Intent to Publish form.
  • If the image was created by UNM, it is not under copyright and you can publish it upon approval from the pictorial archivists.
  • If the image is an Orphan Work, you will need to make a good faith effort to find out who the creator was/is and then you may publish it.
  • In all instances you need to provide a citation for the image you publish.

What is Public Domain?

The term Public Domain refers to published creative works (such as images) that can be used by anyone without obtaining permission.  Images are in the public domain when the copyright has expired or when the copyright holder has failed to follow copyright renewal rules. Note that Public Domain only applies to published works.

Copyright has expired for all images published in the United States before 1923.  In 2020, works published before 1924 will enter the public domain, in 2021, works published before 1925 will enter the public domain, etc.

Public Domain does not apply to images published outside the United States.

For more information please visit Cornell University's Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States  table.

What are Orphan Works?

It is often the case that copyright owners cannot be identified for images. The archivists do not know who took the photograph or when it was taken.  In many instances, the collector who assembled the image collection was not the photographer and obtaining permission from the copyright owner is simply not possible. In other cases, the copyright owner can be identified but not located. 

In both cases, if you are unable to locate the author or the author’s heir or estate representative, you will need to make a reasonable effort to locate the copyright holder should a claimant come forward post-publication. It is essential that you list each step taken and source consulted in your search; date and record the results for each and keep paper documentation.

For more information please visit the web page on Orphan Works from the United States Copyright Office.

Pictorial Archivist

Profile Photo
Cindy Abel Morris
Center for Southwest Research/Special Collections, Room 127B