Infosec presenters and fair use of copyrighted images

I’ve seen over 200 information security presentations this year, which is probably low compared to many of my infosec colleagues. In almost every one of the presentations, there were slides containing images that were just “found on the Internets”. I’m writing today about fair use and how to source and cite graphics in a fair way for your presentations.

First off, I’m obviously not an attorney. However, I did study journalism in school and I’ve had substantial education in fair use of copyrighted materials. Additionally, I’m a graphic designer, photographer and all around digital artist and I can identify with digital creators and their desire to be compensated or minimally credited. As the authors of research and opinion pieces that are often plagiarized, I hope that my fellow infosec colleagues can also understand the desire to be properly recognized or compensated for one’s work.

My proposal

I propose that you cite the source of the image either in a caption or in a slide at the end of your presentation. Optionally, that you pay the image creator for the right not to.

Likely hurdles toward change

I can imagine that there will be four hurdles that my infosec colleagues will have toward change:

1. They’re having a hard time transitioning from an academnic research environment, where it’s normal, accepted, and likely even legal for you to use any content as a student or teacher.

2. Many of my infosec colleagues feel that all bits should be free, whether they’re in text or binary format, including images.

3. They’re too busy.

4. They’re one of the rare people already doing this.

My sourcing recommendations

Don’t use Google: If you need an image to represent an idea, or an object, don’t just use google images. Although this may be good to find reference images when creating your own illustrations or to see what something looks like, it’s not a good way to source images that you can easily get permission to use or even easily cite the source of. This goes the same for deviantART.

Don’t use free public domain image sites: Most of the sites where you can get free “public domain” images are not legit. Unless it’s a site where the creator of the image is the one uploading the image, and is listed as the creator granting rights, don’t trust it. It’s likely that most of these sites just steal images and use them to get traffic to their site so that they can show you ads.

Use Creative Commons search: The creative commons search tool can be used to find appropriately licensed stuff, and they have a plug-in that is included in Firefox.

Use Flickr: Use Flickr’s advanced search to find images that have the Creative Commons license that allows permission for usage with or without attribution.

Use Government sites: There are some government sites like the National Archives, and the Library of Congress that have collections of images in the public domain. You can get started finding these images at the U.S. Government Photos and Images site.

Use credible stock image sites: Use credible stock image sites and pay the few dollars for the right image and the rights to use it.

In general: In general, you don’t own the rights to crap unless you paid for it. If you created it, you still only own the rights to it if it doesn’t resemble someone else’s crap.

Questions to ponder

How would you feel if someone used your research in a presentation and didn’t cite it?

Are you being compensated for your presentation either with money or notoriety?

How much time did it save you not having to create the image yourself?

Is your usage considered fair use under the law?

My offer

Contact me if you’re having a hard time sourcing an image that you can use in your presentation. I’ll source or create you a graphic if you can wait for me to create it, and you’re willing to attribute me as the creator. Just e-mail me a sketch of the slide, the date of the presentation, and the deadline for the slide.


Putting all legal arguments aside, I think that it’s only fair that you credit the creators of the digital illustrations that you use in your presentations, or pay the creators for the right not to. If you’re already doing this, then feel free to tell me to GTFO.

Thank you, and please let me know your opinion.

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