Skip Navigation

Digital Law & Regulation

Jump to a Topic

Use this quick-link navigation to get where you need to go:

Questions to Consider Legally Using Images & Media Finding Free to Use Images Plagiarism & Piracy Internet Regulation User Rights & Responsibilities

Online Law & Regulation Overview

This is the fun part. This section covers copyright, fair use, legally sharing media online, plagiarism, piracy, internet regulation, and reporting violations. Why is this important? We live in a copy and paste world. It’s too easy to grab any image, audio file, or other piece of media from a website and claim it as our own.

We often do this accidentally. We share, re-post, remix or otherwise use other people’s work on social media, forums or or other projects because we like the work. Remixing and learning skills is encouraged in makerspaces. However, copyright and fair use laws don’t always cross our minds when we get click-happy.

Another aspect of online law is how the internet is regulated. Where do users go to report violations or inappropriate content? Can users gain fair access to the internet and all content? With the wide array of activities that can be accomplished on the internet, it can be difficult to determine which government agency has the power to regulate each aspect of the web.

Websites are largely left to regulate themselves. Sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter put forth policies where users can report violations directly to the site owner. Larger websites tend to have internal review groups who will review and take down content that violates the site’s conduct policies.

This system is not perfect. People should know how to use content appropriately, and know what to do when things go wrong online. This section will help you learn the law of the digital land.

Questions to Consider

While reading this guide, consider these questions. Start brainstorming the most pressing needs for information about Online Laws and Regulations. Think about how you can best connect library customers with the resources to use information properly in a digital world.

  1. Are you using images and other online media legally?
  2. What are the different types of copyright?
  3. How do you choose images for use in the library?
  4. Which copyright exceptions are made in the library? How and why?
  5. Under what circumstances do you need permission to use information/ media? How?
  6. How is the internet regulated? Who regulates the internet?
  7. Do you agree with how the internet is regulated? Why, or why not?
  8. What are the rights and responsibilities of internet users?

Libraries use images on posters, to advertise books, in presentations, on websites, in displays, and more. The better the images, the more appealing the information is to the audience. We can’t all be amazing graphic artists with all the time in the world, so many librarians grab images from the web. The trick is to use images that are safe to use under copyright law.

When libraries provide access to technology in computer labs or makerspaces, it is important to provide information about proper use and sharing of information. This protects public perception of the library, the reputation of librarians, and ensures the safety of library customers.

Below are resources to learn about and assist patrons with copyright law, fair use, plagiarism, piracy and copyright in the library:


A Simple Guide to Copyright for Librarians: This guide outlines the role of librarians in copyright information assistance and provides 15 Essential Copyright Facts and Tips.

Copyright Issues for Libraries: Find out how copyright exceptions are made for libraries, and how a global internet may affect copyright laws in the library.

Teaching Kids about Copyright: Common Sense Education provides activities to teach kids “how to find and use other people’s creative works legally and ethically”. Parent resources are also available.

Creative Commons Licenses: Creative Commons licenses describe how information can be protected and used or shared by others. Provide this guide to patrons interested in creating or using content.

Finding Free to Use Images Online

Copyright laws can get tricky. In many cases, how you plan to use the image will determine whether you can use the image, and how. Here is a quick guide for what to look for in a free to use image:

  • Fair Use: When using images for personal, educational or public good, there are occasions when images can be used without permission. Educational purposes cannot be for profit. MIT has a “four factor test” to help determine fair use. When in doubt, ask for permission.
  • Attribute Sources: With any Creative Commons license, add a simple caption to attribute the image with the original title, author, source site, and license.
  • Free for Commercial Use: Look for images that are “free for commercial use, no attribution required”. The Smithsonian defines commercial use as “any reproduction or purpose that is marketed, promoted, or sold and incorporates a financial transaction”. Use at your discretion.
  • Creative Commons Zero places images in thepublic domain. This means you can “copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, without asking permission”.
  • Free for non-commercial use images can be used for personal websites, education, or any occasion that will not result in financial gain. Always read the fine print to find out if attribution is required. When in doubt, avoid using the image.

The most important part in using images online is to read the fine print. The resources below have popular sources of free to use images, and additional guides of how to choose and legally use images.


Creativity & Copyright Quick-Guide Infographic: Connect Safely provides an excellent infographic that can be printed or made available to makers in the library.

Commercial and Non-Commercial Use: The Smithsonian describes the difference, including examples of use.

Best Practices for Attribution: Find out the proper way to attribute images in this Creative Commons wiki.

Creative Commons Zero: Creative Commons outlines the details of how Public Domain images can be designated and used without permission.

Pixabay: Find free images, artwork, and royalty free stock images. Double-check the licenses!

Upsplash: These free photos are contributed by photographers around the world. Attribution is not required, but crediting “allows photographers to gain exposure”.

LifeofPix: This site offers high resolution photos and video clips.

Plagiarism & Piracy:

Plagiarism is easy. Anyone can copy work and use ideas without attributing them to the original author. Piracy happens at the click of a button. Ideas branch from other ideas and proper citation can get lost in the shuffle. Most plagiarism is completely accidental.

Kids are taught this in school, but adults need this information as well. Especially with the growing maker movement. People of all ages are remixing images, opening small businesses, and using and sharing ideas from around the web. Is everyone using information properly?

Parents will also need help knowing what to look for when reviewing their kid’s work. With the rise of fake news and advanced technology, the information landscape has changed.


Family Tip Sheet Common Sense on Plagiarism & Piracy: This fact sheet is designed to make parents aware of how teens should and should not be using online media. Can be made available as a reference.

What is Plagiarism? Describes the many forms plagiarism can take.

Top Ten Types of Plagiarism: Awesome infographic by detailing the types of plagiarism. There is code available to embed the infographic on your website!

Intellectual Property: Cornell University lays out the law of the land about the four categories of intellectual property: patent, copyright, trademark and trade secrets. This protects the products of human intellect. This information can come in handy for library makerspaces and creative works.

Internet Regulation

Now we know how to use legally use information found online. How are websites themselves regulated? Who determines whether content violates another person’s rights? Is there governmental oversight? How is the internet defined? Communication? Finance? Information library?

The truth is that the internet is largely unregulated in the United States. Most websites are left to their own devices to determine which content is suitable for viewers, and how content can be reported and removed. There is no universal standard. This is a huge debate among regulators today: should the internet remain unregulated? Who ensures the safety of the public in a digital world?


Federal Trade Commission, Protecting Consumer Privacy & Security: Access the policies protecting children’s online privacy, overall data and security and enforcement, and financial privacy and security.

(Video) What is Net Neutrality and How Could it Affect You? BBC describes net neutrality, internet regulation, and how policies impact users.

Net Neutrality: Both Sides of a Heated Debate: GodTech magazine outlines both sides of the story.

Digital Rights & Responsibilities

We all have a right to the freedom of expression, but we also have the right to feel safe and well online and in the physical world. To ensure this happens, users have a responsibility to report things that threaten their own safety, or the safety of other users. This section overlaps with the online communication and etiquette section.

Reporting violations on the internet is generally processed through individual website policies. However, regulations continue to change and adapt to protect internet users. Connect patrons with resources and learning activities so people know their rights and responsibilities to maintain a safe internet.


What are Your Digital Rights? The World Wide Web has gone global. Learn rights and responsibilities of internet users everywhere from the World Economic Forum.

Online Safety and Tips: Connect Safely provides tips and tricks to stay safe online in various contexts.

Digital Health & Wellness →

Back to Top