Currently I'm writing a book, in which it would be interesting to include some relevant pictures. The pictures I'm planning to include are in the public domain. Here is an example.

That picture, according to Wikipedia, is in the public domain. So I would like to simply download it, include it on a page of my book, and sell that book. Note that the picture serves a purpose of illustration within the book, which is actually original content written by me.

Can I do this:

  • By simply adding a "Disclaimer/Copyright notice" at the beginning of the book, stating something like "all pictures in this book are in the public domain, no copyright infringement is intended, blablabla"?
  • Not attributing the image to any person that was involved in taking the picture, or uploading it to Wikipedia?
  • Do the same with about 20 more images that are relevant to my book, each time not specifically mentioning the copyright info or in which country it is public domain, just the fact that "all images are public domain"?


2 Answers 2


If the pictures or images are in fact in the public domain, using them is not an infringement of copyright. One can use them without attribution, or even with a false attribution, and no one can sue for copyright infringement, because no one owns any rights to the images.

Most publishers and academics consider using such content without reasonable attribution unethical. Doing this might harm your reputation. It could even cause a publisher to refuse to publish the book.

If the images are in the public domain in some countries, but still under copyright in others, a copyright suit could be filed in any country where any image is still protected. If a judgement and a damage award is secured in such a country, the plaintiff could ask the courts of your home country to enforce that award, and they might do so, depending on which countries are involved nd the exact circumstances.

Note also that while Wikipedia editors are generally careful not to mark as PD imaged that are in fact under copyright, some are more careful than others, and mistakes on this have been made in the past. Moreover, a few editors have knowingly uploaded and described as PD images which were clearly protected by copyright. Thus a person planning to use such images in a book would be wise to do some due diligence confirming the PD status of the images.

Should it prove that the Wikipedia designation was incorrect, and the images are in fact still protected by copyright, the owner could sue anyone who had republished them without permission. In such a suit a proper attribution would not be a defense against a claim of copyright infringement, but it might help to establish "innocent infringement" which might well mitigate damages. It also might influence the decision of the owner about whether to sue or not.

  • Thanks a lot for this
    – Dakter
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 17:22
  • Also, Wikipedia has used the courts to have items declared 'public domain' against a content creator. You shouldn't assume that Wikipedia's ethical position is the same as that of your readers.
    – david
    Commented May 1 at 23:07

Yes, you can do that, assuming that the pictures are really in the public domain (i.e. due to their age, and not only claimed to be). But you probably shouldn't, but you'll probably want to add a label to the images anyway (what it depicts, who the original painter is, etc). So adding a "public domain" tag to each image shouldn't be a big issue. You can do that on a separate page as well, giving the source for each.

Note that while using pd images does not create a copyright violation, even if you blatantly say that you created them yourself, it could still be considered plagiarism. When writing a science book or even a thesis, this could get you into trouble.

  • 2
    Plagiarism isn't a law- it's an academic concept. Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 10:58
  • 1
    @Studoku While plagiarism per se might not be unlawful, it certainly does feature in the law. For example, in England and Wales, plagiarism is a factor which is considered as part of a solicitor's character and suitability for admission to the roll. See rule 4.1 of the Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules which carries statutory force by way of section 28 of the Solicitors Act 1974.
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 13:34
  • @Studoku I didn't mean to say that plagiarism is unlawful, just that it might get you into trouble. This includes getting your doctors degree retracted, and that may have legal consequences if you work as a medic or as lawyer.
    – PMF
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 14:53

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