Copyright, Attribution, and Fair Use

Extension is known for helping the public sort through the avalanche of information and advice available online and providing unbiased, relevant, practical information. Extension educational materials incorporate and evaluate information developed by others. It is important Extension educators and communicators understand and model lawful and prudent practices related to attribution, copyright and trademark protection, permission, fair use, and endorsement.

Just because an image, diagram, or paragraph is freely available online does not make it appropriate or legal to paste it into your next PowerPoint, include in a media release, or incorporate into a handout. Knowing the basics can help avoid embarrassing and potentially costly oversights and keep Extension where it should be – demonstrating research-based best practices in all we do!

Extension staff and volunteers should review these resources as they prepare educational programs:


Core Policies on Attribution, Copyright, and Fair Use

Digital content must meet legal and contractual standards for the pieces of content we package together and share in our name. If you didn’t create something from scratch, you don’t own it. If you don’t own it and you don’t have written permission, you can’t share it.


Guest Speaker Content

Illinois Extension requires all educational materials, including those delivered by a guest presenter, comply with copyright and trademark regulations. All photos, videos, and music used in a presentation must be 1) legally obtained through a royalty-free site with documentation of the source and license agreement noted with the photo or on an end slide; or 2) be taken by the presenter or associate of the presenter who grants use to Illinois Extension in the presentation and public viewing of the recording.”


Understanding Copyright Terms

Royalty-free: Royalty-free images are available to use without paying royalties to the owners. Royalty-free doesn't mean free; often you pay for the right to use the creative asset. 

License: When owners grant access to their creative assets, the specific requirements for using the creative piece are outlined in a use license.

Creative Commons License: The Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization, provides a simple and standardized process for copyright owners to distribute their creative content. There are six different types of creative commons licenses, ranging from unlimited, unrestricted use to noncommercial use and full author credits required. Be sure you understand what license your content has so you can fully align with the license requirements.


Written Word

  • Staff should not plagiarize content of any kind from other authors, including Extension staff in other states. Include citations of referenced works. If saying “research says,” the source of the research should be cited. 
  • When citing sources, use the Chicago Manual of Style format (preferred, though other styles may be used if used accurately and consistently).
  • No graphic or text can imply endorsement of a company’s product or services. A disclaimer should be included if it is unclear.
  • The following resources are available for all Extension staff:
  • No permission is needed if a work was created before 1926 (as of 2021). Each January, that year advances by 1 year
  • Copyright protection exists from the moment of creation to a fixed source. The copyright symbol is not required for the copyright to exist, and the works does not need to be registered to be copyrighted. 
  • Federal government documents exist in the Public Domain and may be used without additional permission. 


Photos & Graphics

  • All photos and graphics must be originally taken/created by Extension, purchased through a photo/graphic service, in the public domain, available with a Creative Commons or open access license (with attribution as required), or used with permission. Citing the photographer/designer does not absolve staff from copyright infringement.
  • Staff must be able to document where a photo was obtained, include permissions received, if we need to defend an accusation of copyright infringement. Photographers or organizations should sign the Photography Use License Form outlining the use of specific photos taken by non-staff. Educators and communicators should keep these forms on file and be able to document use when requested.
  • Staff may not use or reproduce trademarked images, characterizations, storylines, videos, or graphics, including, but not limited to popular TV shows, movie characters, book characters, video games, actors, musicians, slogans, cartoon, and phrases.
  • Extension photos of identifiable people must have photo release forms on file.
  • Here are some places to find approved photos for projects:
    • Unsplash: Unsplash offers professional marketing-quality photo at no cost. Its license allows for free download for personal or commercial uses without further permissions.
    • Storyblocks: Storyblocks offers high quality images, videos, and music for download and use without further permissions.
    • Getty Images: Extension pays for access to this royalty-free imagery. Our license grants rights to anyone within the organization to use photos for almost unrestricted purposes and frequency. If you need a photo and can't find anything through one of the free services, use this link to search Getty for an image you need and submit a marketing request. We'll provide the photo to you at no cost. Photos may only be used by Extension, not by our partners. Images can be used for multiple projects.
    • Canva: Each Illinois Extension unit office and state program teams has access to a pro Canva account supplied by Extension CommIT. Contact the state communication office if you need login information. There are strict licensing requirements for using photos available in Canva. Canva is licensing you the right to use a design you create. You do not own the components that are within it. These are our restrictions
      • Cannot use a Canva stock image as a part of a trademark or logo design.
      • Cannot use a paid image in more than one design. Can tweak a design for use on multiple platforms.
      • Cannot reproduce the image more than 2,000 times (one-time use) or 250,000 times (royalty-free).
      • Cannot save photos to a network for use by others.
      • Cannot use Canva stock images in templates made available for sharing or for sale.
      • Cannot download Canva stock photos to use in designs created outside of Canva.
      • Cannot use images in items available for sale.
      • Cannot use Canva as a photo editing program for Canva photos without adding some type of creative treatment, such as text or graphic elements. 
    • Microsoft Applications: Microsoft products, such as PowerPoint and Word, offer photo searches. Go to the "insert" ribbon | select "online pictures" | enter a search term | check the box that says "Creative Commons." Microsoft does not fully guarantee all photos are creative commons, so use with caution only if a photo is not available through other free sources. 
    • Google Image Search: When you search for images, click the "Tool" tab | go to "Usage Rights" | choose "Creative Commons Licenses" in the pulldown. Google does not fully guarantee all photos are creative commons, so use with caution only if a photo is not available through other free sources. 


  • Playing copyrighted music (or movies) at an event, a staff gathering in the office, prior to the start of a Zoom meeting, or public space is illegal without the proper license. You are legally liable if, when filming a video or podcast, music from an outside source is accidentally captured in your recording.
  • Music added to presentations must be purchased through a commercial licensing service, in the public domain, available with a Creative Commons or open-access license (with attribution as required), or used with permission of the copyright holder. A good rule of thumb is this: if you can recognize and name the song, you shouldn't use it without permission of the person who owns the rights to the song.
  • Check that the music you’ve selected aligns with your commercial intentions. For example, does the copyright restrict profiting from the video?
  • Many songs require you to list attribution somewhere in the video. This can be done discretely somewhere near the opening or closing screens of the video. Credit the artist, not the source.
  • Here are a few sources of open source music: YouTube Audio Library, StreamBeats, Creative Commons. Don’t download from one source and use on another platform.


  • Under Fair Use, staff may play third-party video material created by others during an educational session delivered live. If the presentation is being recorded and posted for any time viewing, you must either stop the recording while you play the video or cut that section out of the posted presentation. 


Download the Best Practices Guide

This page previews a portion of the full best practice guide for copyright and fair use guidelines. Download the full Illinois Extension Copyright and Attribution Best Practices Guide to explore this topic, including helpful examples and illustrations.

Copyright and Attribution Best Practices Guide