On PSE it is common for users to create puzzles using photographs or pictures taken from elsewhere on the web (e.g. here and here). Now, I like and enjoy this style of puzzle - it challenges your brain in different ways to a word-based puzzle, and I would like to create a puzzle of this variety myself. My question is this...

What is the situation of an image-based puzzle with regards to copyright? I am no expert on the law or principles of the Web when it comes to this, but if the images required are of people or things that the OP cannot easily photograph or draw themselves (e.g. a celebrity headshot, a deep-space image of a planet, or a scientific diagram), is there anything in the PSE rules/guidelines which requires attribution/acknowledgement of some kind to be made to the originator/source of the image? I have never seen such acknowledgement made on a puzzle, which makes me suspect either there is no such requirement or all of the images used have come from some kind of online image repository which permits their usage here. (Or that there is such a policy but nobody bothers to adhere to it!)

Ultimately, my question boils down to the specifics of: Are question askers (and answerers) free to use whatever images they like from elsewhere (the 'because it's available on the Web' argument), or are there only certain online image repositories which permit their images to be used in this way?

A naive question perhaps (and one which I am sure affects far more websites than just PSE, so may well have a Web-wide policy solution), but one which would be useful to have some clarity over...


3 Answers 3


There's two parts to your question:

1) Copyright law (I'm not a lawyer, etc) generally requires you to to have express permission or licence to use someone else's content. This may be because you've asked the content creator and they've said yes, or it may be because they've explicitly released the image under a licence that allows reuse (for example one of the Creative Commons licences, or perhaps completely to the public domain). Note that copyright is granted automatically to the creator on creation and doesn't require them to explicitly state/claim it (i.e. a lack of copyright notice or warning does not imply that you're allowed to use the content). Also, the sorts of usages you're referring to are unlikely to fall under any "fair use" type rules in most countries (it's not used for reference/review/satire, it's purely used to create a derivative work).

You can, however, still find images online that are completely free to use, you just have to be a little careful. For example, if you use Google's image search, you can ask it to only find images with permissive licensing:

free to reuse

Just be aware that you'll still need to check the site you're taking the content from to see if their licence requires anything specific (for example attribution):

enter image description here enter image description here

2) Puzzling.SE policy (I'm not a mod/employee, etc) is that anything you post that isn't your own creation requires that you provide appropriate attribution. Note that the policy linked is largely concerned with plagiarism (since the copyright question above relates to law rather than site policy), so it's debatable whether you need to provide a reference when the content is expressly in the public domain or what the threshold is for derivative works (e.g. if you start with a freely available image and manipulate it heavily before posting it in your puzzle).

However, as you've already discovered, people often ignore both of the above, especially when it's a simple component of a broader puzzle (the plagiarism policy is fairly strictly enforced for whole puzzles). At the end of the day, Puzzling.SE is a community run site and few people are going to go hunting down images you use to ensure you've got the appropriate usage rights, which ultimately means things are left to an unspoken honesty policy. In other words, you shouldn't use other people's images without permission/attribution, but at the same time, you'll probably get away with it if you do... (which is not tacit permission)

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Alconja, this is very useful :) I'd be interested to know if any of the mods have anything to add from past experience of dealing with image uses that were deemed in obvious breach of site policy... However, I suspect that unless images were clearly offensive there probably hasn't been much action (or need for it) on this front...? Puzzle plagiarism does seem to be the bigger issue, both in terms of its prevalence and the response to it. $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Sep 4, 2019 at 12:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Stiv Moderators may, but are under no obligation to, remove material clearly infringing on a copyright. We have done this in the past and I’m sure will do so again in the future. Other SE sites have particular rules regarding links to third party sites hosting copyright infringing materials; this isn’t much of an issue for us here but I know I have removed similar at least once, and we generally prefer to honor content creators’ rights (for example, to not have their contest content published elsewhere) and will and do remove such posts. If we can be good Netizens, we should be. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Sep 9, 2019 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio As an aside on plagiarised puzzles, there was also this one case where we found out that a puzzle was lifted, unattributed, from a book (identical character names and all), and contacted the book's author. After an apology from the OP (who thought the puzzle was self-invented by someone in his study group), the author decided not to press the issue, but instead retroactively gave us the permission to keep the puzzle. (Thank you once again for that, Professor Liu!) $\endgroup$
    – Bass
    Sep 9, 2019 at 20:48

@Alconja gave the long answer, which contains a lot of good points and helpful advise. Here's the short answer:

  • Don't use images you don't have permission to use.

  • We won't police it, because we cannot.

  • If you use someone else's content without permission, and we find out, you will have no friends here.

  • $\begingroup$ I am still something curious about, what if user posted and image from other site, he also gave reference? but the reference is the wrong, that site is not the true owner of the content. we can't do anything in that case I think so... we can just check the reference is correct or wrong... $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2019 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ @SayedMohdAli We recognize that providing attribution for content you did not create is, sometimes, a best-effort endeavor. We don’t insist that people move heavens and earth to find the absolute origin of something, just that they tell us where they found it (the context of where you find a puzzle, for example, may be more relevant than identifying where a specific image in it originally came from). Where easily identified, though, we’d still like to see the original content creator be attributed for their work; if you can do that, do that. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Sep 9, 2019 at 13:06

Don't use images from elsewhere until and unless you are allowed to use them. even you can't use content from other site and if you are doing so then it is necessary to give the reference...

  1. Plagiarism policy is strictly followed on the web. if someone use copied content and images then it can be easily find out by the Plagiarism checker tools
  2. the site that use copied content get warnings to remove the content from their site by the true owner of the content. example, try to upload any movie on youtube, you will get the warning of copyright content from youtube from the behalf of the moderator. like you are moderating stack-meta, there are people who moderate copyright stuff.
  3. There is some websites who allow you to download and use images and you will will not face any issue at all. example pexels.com
  4. even if you are part of any image then also you can claim on that image to the web authorities regarding any issue you are having with that image.
  5. so the conclusion is if you are using copied content, and the owner find out about it's then it will be going to be deleted in the future. You can't protect it and also you will get warning from google from behalf of the owner, not to use copied content. it affects the ranking & Reputation of the website, also it is considered as a poor quality post and surely will be deleted after being caught as copied content...
  • $\begingroup$ downvoters please leave comments, I would love to hear you... $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2019 at 8:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Not the downvoter, but 2) no one moderate copyrighted stuff on SE. Mods don't actively find and delete copyrighted stuff, they may delete when they are certain about it, but we depend on the more official DMCA takedown request. 5) I'm not sure where you got the idea of someone personally getting a warning from Google by posting copyrighted stuff on here. The worst thing that can (and did) happen is, the post gets deleted due to DMCA takedown request. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    Sep 8, 2019 at 17:20

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