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View of Georgetown campus from the Virginia side of the Potomac

View of Georgetown campus from the Virginia side of the Potomac

Data Visualization

What is Copyright?

According to the Library of Congress, "copyright refers to the author's (creators of all sorts such as writers, photographers, artists, film producers, composers, and programmers) exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and publicly perform and display their works."

Understand Fair Use

"Fair Use" is a provision in US copyright law that imposes limits and exceptions to the exclusive rights of copyright owners.

It means that you can use copyright-protected media without asking for permission if it is considered for a fair purpose, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

Fair Use Guidelines for student projects:

  • Always give full credit
  • Only use a small amount
  • If shared online, make your project private

Learn more about Fair Use:

Citing Graphics

If you use any icons or images that you did not make, make sure to cite their source. Preferably, you should find icons or images with a Creative Commons-license.

To cite an icon (all licensed under Creative Commons) from The Noun Project, follow their attribution guidelines:

sample of the attribution for digital and for print provided for each icon in the Noun Project



To cite an image or icon that does not include explcit attribution instructions, include at least  the name of the creator, the licensing information, the title of the work, and a link back to where you found it.

open notebooks containing handwritten notes and drawings stacked on top of one another

sample attribution data from flickr

For example, above is a screenshot of the author and copyright information for a photo titled "Notebook Collection" found on Flickr. To cite this photo, you might use a format like this one: 

"Notebook Collection" by Dvortygirl, Some Rights Reserved

"Notebook Collection" is linked to the image itself. "Some Right Reserved" is linked to the exact Creative Commons license.



Citing your Data

You need to cite where you got your data from. It is best to do this somewhere at the bottom of your data visualization project, where it won't distract the audience.

If you got your data from several sources, make sure to cite each one.

Your citation should include at least the following:

  • the organization or author responsible for the data set
  • the title of the data set
  • the year the data set was published
  • the URL or DOI (digital object identifier) for where you located the dataset

See this Quick Guide by IASSIST for more information.

Finding Graphics that are Okay To Use

Almost everything is copyrighted and requires permission from its creator to use. There are, however, some exceptions:

"Specially-licensed" Creative Commons logo- There is a lot of media that has been made available for anyone to use, waiving the need to obtain direct permission from the author. For example, a very common license is an "Attribution" license, meaning that you can use the media for any purpose as long as you give credit to the creator somewhere in your work. The non-profit organization Creative Commons offers a variety of attribution licenses that creators apply to their work to make available for public use. Learn more about Creative Commons licensing. Search for works with a Creative Commons license.

"Public Domain" - Works that are not copyrighted and are publically available are considered in the "public domain." Works exist in the public domain usually for one of three reasons: 1) they are very old, 2) the copyright has expired, 3) the work was created by the federal government. It can be hard to determine if something is in the public domain, so your best bet is to try to find a licensed alternative. Learn more about when different works entered the public domain. Find out if the work you want to use is copyrighted.

Creative Commons   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International License. | Details of our policy