Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding Pictures You're ALLOWED to Use

The Wild West culture of the Internet often obscures the fact that much of what you see online is made up of intellectual property that belongs to a person or organization. When something is copyrighted, you are not supposed to use that work, whatever it be (pictures, text, audio, video, etc.) without the owner's permission (or in some cases, pay for the rights to use that property). Now, we all know that that doesn't stop a whole lot of people from using those properties anyway, but as teachers, we should be modeling and teaching respect for ALL intellectual property, particularly if we are already emphasizing things like preventing plagiarism in student work.

More than anything else, intellectual property violations on the Internet come in the form of using and redistributing images. Because it is ridiculously easy to find images on the Internet, people often download, distribute, remix, and use images they find on Google Images and other sources with complete disregard for whether they're actually allowed to be doing what they are doing. So, what are we to do in education, when we require students to go out and find pictures for their slideshows, videos, posters, and other assignments for your class? Here are a couple of ideas to help you (and your students) find the material you need while respecting the intellectual property of others.

Creative Commons logo.  Licensed under 
by Creative Commons.

1. Understanding Intellectual Property and Your Rights

The first thing that you should do, if you are completely unfamiliar with the terms Copyright, Creative Commons, Fair Use and/or Public Domain, is to learn more about how they relate to the rights that you have to use certain material. The Educator's Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons contains a wealth of information about intellectual property and the consequences for using the work of others without their consent. From there, if you are looking to teach your students, Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything has a wealth of resources and teaching materials curated for you to take a look through. I encourage to check these resources out if you are just beginning to learn about these issues.

2. Use Websites That Curate Creative Commons and other Free-to-Use Images

There are numerous websites out there that link to and allow users to upload and share their photos to the world using Creative Commons and other permissive licensing. Richard Byrne has a list of such sites on his Free Tech 4 Teachers site. Three other websites that I would like to add on top of his list are Flickr (though you need to filter for Creative Commons; see below), Wikimedia Commons, and Pixabay.

3. Filter Your Image Searches to Find Images You Can Use

Search engines like Google and photo sharing sites like Flickr allow you to filter your image search results to images that you have permission to use. In a Google Image search, you'll want to look at the top toolbar (just below the search box) for an option that says "Search Tools." Click that and you'll see a number of filtering options. You can filter by image size, color, and more, but most importantly, you can filter by "Usage rights." Click there, and you'll have a number of options to choose from, including by noncommercial use and noncommercial use with modification (these are the two options I usually select). Click on an option, and see your search results change before your eyes!

In Flickr, you'll see just above your search results a filter that says "Any license." If you click on that, you can change your license filter to any number of options.

While we're on the subject, schools should (and often do) treat student work as intellectual property belonging to the students as well. Make sure that you have permission to be posting pictures of students and their work if you are doing so online!


  1. Geoffrey - thanks for this posting! I have seen some of this before in former classes, but your posting nicely and concisely captures the essence!

    1. Thanks Beth! I was hoping to create a blog post that I can share with the teachers I work with as I try to shift the focus more to digital citizenship and multimedia creation. Are there any other resources that you're aware of worth sharing?