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The Edublogs support team regularly receives complaints and official requests to remove copyrighted content that users have placed on blogs.

The legal jargon with respect to digital copyrights can be confusing – especially since different countries have their own laws and regulations.

Understanding digital copyright is an essential skill we need to understand and teach our students.

With this post, we hope to dispel a few myths and pull together a complete list of resources for teachers and students to use when blogging and working with content online.

This post was originally written by Ronnie Burt, on the Edublogger, on Feb, 2012.  It’s been re-written with content and comments from the original post combined with updated content by Sue Waters. Dexter, the cat, is owned by Ronnie Burt 🙂  

Rule 1: You Can’t Use Everything You Find On the Web

Dexter the cat hates those that steal his photos…

This may seem obvious, but judging by the notices we have received, many teachers (and especially students) are under the impression that if it is on the web, then it is up for grabs.

If you and your students keep rule 1 in mind, then everything else should be fine.

Rule 2: There Are Resources You CAN Use

One of the myths out there is that you can’t use any image, video, or content from another website on your blog.

That simply isn’t true, and we’ll cover our favorite sources of “fair use”, “public domain” and “free to use” resources at the end of this post.

It is troubling that while copyright is important to protect the hard work of others, it can also stifle creativity and hamper educational goals.

Understanding Fair Use

You might be aware that as educators, we have a few more flexible rules, called “Fair Use”, to play by.

That is, in some cases, if an image, text, video, etc. is being used for educational purposes, there might be more flexible copyright rules.

For example, a video that was purchased in a store can usually be shown in a classroom when the video is tied to the curriculum being taught. Otherwise, showing a class full of students a video would be considered a “public performance” and would be against the law.

The trouble is, most of the laws and rules that cover fair use and education were written well before the invention of the web.

While a textbook or curricula resource might allow for photocopying for classroom use, it most likely isn’t going to allow you to make a PDF of the document and put it on your class blog or website for students to print themselves.

The end result would be the same, right? A student would have a printed copy.

But make sure to check specific copyright restrictions before uploading anything you’ve scanned to the web!

For more, check out the Fair Use FAQ for Educators here from the excellent resource site, TeachingCopyright.org.

What Can Be a Violation?

Here are the most common types of content that we have been contacted about and asked to remove on our blogs:

  • Images – mostly found through google image search
  • Curriculum docs and PDFs – especially handouts, student activities, chapters of textbooks and music sheets.
  • Music – usually mp3s that students have uploaded to share on their blogs

But I Won’t Be Caught…

If only that were true.

Google makes it incredibly easy for companies and content creators to seek out those posting their work on the web.

Sadly, we are also noticing more and more “law firms” and organizations out there looking for copyrighted content as a way of generating business. They then contact the copyright holder offering their services to get the content removed (for a fee of course).

It is a ruthless (and apparently profitable) practice, and we’d be lying if we haven’t argued with a few that contact Edublogs about how they are hurting the education of students. But let’s keep on topic…

What If I Am Caught?

Little did Dexter know, but he was going on this flight anyway…

Well of course in this case a good offense is your best defense. Check your blogs and class websites for any potentially offending material. If you find anything, just remove it.

The law requires copyright holders to give you (and the host of your site, such as Edublogs, WordPress, etc.) an official notification. Take these seriously and act quickly to remove what they want if you are in the wrong. That should be the end of it.

We were once notified about a teacher with a blog on Edublogs that had a harmless world map image on his blog that he had presumably found using Google image search. When we contacted him telling him why we had removed the image, he asked if he and his students could write an apology letter to the copyright holder.

It was excellent – turning what could be a bit of an embarrassing mistake into a teachable moment for his students! Now this teacher had a good reason to discuss copyright and creative commons with his students…

So What Is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons, founded in 2001, is an organization which provides free content license known as a creative commons license that people can apply to their work.

When you license your work with creative commons, you are giving people the permission to use it without having to ask permission, provided they use it in the manner stated in your creative commons license.

The reason people use creative commons licenses is to make it easier for everyone to share and adapt creative work without the concern of copyright infringement.

Watch this video on Creative Commons.

Creative commons licenses are used for books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings.

If an image, or website, doesn’t include a Creative Commons license, or isn’t public domain work, or indicates that the content is free to use than it automatically implies all content is copyright and you shouldn’t use!

Unless a blogger includes a Creative Commons license, all content on that blog is automatically the copyright of the blogger.

Look for A Creative Commons License

One thing to look for when figuring out if an online resource (ie. image, video, text, etc.) is free to copy or embed on your blog, is to look to see if there is Creative Commons license.

This is what a Creative Commons license looks like!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


That is fancy talk for letting you know that you are free to use anything on the site as long as you:

  1. Give an attribution or credit that lets others know where you got the info with a link,
  2. Won’t profit in any way from using the content and use it for non-business purposes only, and
  3. Anything you create with the content, you must use the same license.

Watch this video for a summary of the different creative commons’ licences.

Finding Creative Commons Images

One of the most common sources of Creative Commons images used by bloggers is Flickr (an online photo sharing website).

Unfortunately many assume Flickr images are licensed under creative commons and allowed to be used.  This isn’t the case.

Images marked as “All Rights Reserved” are copyrighted and require permission from the person who uploaded it to Flickr.  Images with “Some rights reserved” means the Flickr user has applied a Creative Commons license to their photo and you can use the image in the manner specified by the license.

If you look at images directly on Flickr always check to see which license applies to ensure you only use the image in the manner specified by the license.

The best option for finding Flickr Creative commons images is to use one of the following Flickr Search Engines:

  • Compfight – It provides a range of search options including search by tags only vs. all the text, licenses, the option to show or hide originals and turn on/off the safe content filter.
  • Photos for Class  – A student friendly place for searching safe images from Creative Commons Flickr.  The downloaded images include attribution of the photographer and the image license terms.
  • Multicolr Search Lab – Allows you to search Flickr images by color.  This is a handy tool when you’re trying to match specific colors.  All you need to do is select up to 5 colors.

Creative Commons and Image Attribution

It’s a requirement of all Creative Commons Licenses that you attribute the original author.  This means you can’t just use a creative commons image without acknowledging the person who originally created it.

Within or at the end your blog post you must attribute the image, include their copyright information and you should link the photo back to it’s original photo page.

Here’s an example of image attribution:


Photo by Chotda licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The easiest way to add Creative Commons images with attribution is using either:

  1. The Compfight Safe Images plugin – you’ll find instructions here on how to use.
  2. Photos for Class

Adapting Creative Commons Images

Some educators like to take photos from the Internet and combine them with text or edit the image to remix it.  This is allowed provided you’ve attributed the original work, their Creative Commons License allows derivatives, and you’ve shared using the same Creative Commons License.

Here’s of how you attribute material from which you created a derivative work.

Derivative Work

This work is a derivative of ‘Sask Scene‘ by Alec Couros used under CC BY 2.0.  It is licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Sue Waters.

You’ll find more detailed information on best practices for attribution here.

What are Free and Public Domain Images?

There are websites that provide public domain images that are free to use, or have their own free to use licensing.

Public domain works are those works that:

  1. Automatically enter public domain when created because they are not copyrightable.
  2. Their copyright has expired.
  3. Their creator has assigned their work to public domain.

Public domain images are free and available for unrestricted use.

Attributing free to use and public domain images

Public domain images and free to use images may not have a strict legal requirement of attribution, depending on the jurisdiction of content reuse, and depending on the terms and conditions of use of content from the website, but attribution is recommended to give correct provenance.  This means within or at the end your blog post you must attribute the image, include their copyright information and you should link the photo back to it’s original photo page.

Here’s some good free and public domain image websites to use with students:

  1. Pixabay – A curated repository for finding and sharing public domain images.  All of the images on Pixabay can be used freely in digital and printed format, for personal and commercial use. Attribution to the original author is not required.
  2. Openclipart is a gallery of clip art images that have been released into the public domain that can be used freely, for personal and commercial use, without attribution.
  3. Wikimedia Commons – Media file repository for public domain and freely-licensed educational media content, including images, sound and video clips. Images and other media on Wikimedia Commons are almost all under some kind of free license (usually public domain, CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, or GFDL (GNU Free Documentation license) and may require attribution.
  4. The Commons – Set up to help share photos and images from the World’s public photography archives.  Once you’ve located an image on The Commons you should click on the ‘No known copyright restrictions’ beneath the image. This takes you to the Rights Statement for the Institution who supplied the image.  This is where you’ll find information on how the institution would like the image to be attributed.
  5. Getty Open Content images – Are all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. No permission is required but they request attribution.
  6. Getty Images – An American Stock photo agency which allows their images to be used for free for non-commercial use.  Getty Images have no relationship with the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Getty Open Content images.  Getty Images can be embedded into posts uisng their embed code.

Copyright and Videos

Video is more confusing than images because you see a lot of remixed videos online or videos using commercial music especially on YouTube.

You are free to embed any video from YouTube, Vimeo, BlipTVWatchKnowLearn, etc. on your blog or website as long as it gives you the embed option.

That being said, you (or your students) can’t necessarily use parts from videos on YouTube (or other sources) to make mashups or as part of another video. If you use any video that you are cutting, making changes to, or adding to a project, or adding audio, it is better to use creative commons content, free or public domain content or request permission from the copyright holder.

YouTube Copyright Basics

If you do use copyright content on YouTube this is what might happen:

  1. The video and/or audio is pulled because of a DMCA complaint, copyright infringement or content ID match.
  2. No action is taken but they might add an advertisement to your video that says ‘Buy this song’.

The following videos are good for explaining video copyright to younger students.

  1. YouTube Copyright school video
  2. YouTube Copyright Basics

Curriculum and Text

You can’t upload student resources from most textbook companies or purchased curriculum – so be careful and make sure you have permission before doing so!

Here’s some resources that you can use:

  • Wikipedia – Quote away (with a link back) to any information you find on Wikipedia
  • Curriki – An open curriculum community
  • Collaborize Classroom Library – A growing resource for discussion questions, lesson plans, and more

Related Posts and More Info on Copyright

Check out the following resources for more information:

Commonly Asked Copyright Questions

Here’s answers to commonly asked questions we’ve received:

In private or for-profit institutions, how can we use images and video, if at all? Is it even okay to use YouTube videos in class? What about online articles? Is there a difference between a class of paying students and a training delivered to teachers?

First, any images, videos, or content under a Creative Commons license will let you freely use the material with your student, you just may not be able to turn around and sell any changes you make. Any video on YouTube should be fine for showing in class, and if an image is on the web, you can always display the website that contains the image – where the line is drawn is on copying that image and pasting it on your own blog or website.

Can the onus not be placed on those who post these potential classroom materials, to make it clear who can and can´t or used for and not used for, surely this would be the least time consuming option.

Excellent point! Awareness of copyright and the importance of website owners to make it clear their licenses is improving. I think sticking to trusted sources and using filtered searches is the safest option.

If you can’t use images from the internet why is it that google can group all the images together for people to use?

Interesting thought for sure. Website owners can ask Google not to index their sites and images with a quick code. For bloggers, under Settings > Privacy, users can do the same thing. Not sure that really answers your question though 🙁

Is there a straightforward way to get the permission needed to use a ‘clip’ from a you tube video?

I’ve seen people leave a comment on the YouTube post, but there is no guarantee you’ll get a response.

Some YouTube videos are licensed under a Creative Commons license, and there is an advanced search filter on YouTube that would let you search for these. If you find one, you could use it without permission as long as you follow what the license allows (ie. provide attribution and not make money on the project).

What about the LIBRARY!?

Not so much a question, but Elijah left an excellent comment down below remind us that this is exactly why our libraries can be such valuable resources. Libraries have access to tons of licensed materials and librarians are specially trained to help us navigate the difficult copyright laws. Thanks, Elijah, for the tip!

When I get permission to post something that’s been copyrighted, am I supposed to share it a certain way so others that I have permission to use?

The answer here really depends on the license of the original content and the agreement you have with the original owner. Most of the time a link back to the original works perfect. The location of the link could be in an image caption, in the text itself, or at the end of your piece (like the “References” section of a formal paper).

Maybe APA/MLA/etc. should come out with a set of web publishing guidelines that include citations and reference lists! How would something like that even get started?

Can students read published books aloud, record themselves & publish recording on class blog?

The answer to this is probably not 🙁

However, many books are in the public domain – including most books written before the 1930s. These are all of the free books you see in the e-reader stores. Students would be free to record themselves and publish any book in the public domain. It should say somewhere near the beginning of the book if it is in the public domain (where copyright and publisher information usually goes).

Add Your Own Creative Commons License

And to finish with!  Luckily, the CreativeCommons.org website has a ton of excellent information and makes it easy to grab the license you wish to have on your own blog.

If you (or your students) have blogs, then it is a good idea to choose the most appropriate license and make it visible on your blog.  This a great activity for teaching students about Creative Commons licenses while telling others how to use content on your blogs can be used.

Here’s how to add a license to your blog

1. Go to Creative Commons Choose A License page.

2. Select your License Features by clicking on the check boxes next to your preferences.

Below is the license features you would select if you wanted to add a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Watch this video for a summary of the different creative commons’ licences.

You’ll find more About the Licenses here.

License Features

3.  Scroll down to ‘Have a web page?‘ and copy the code.

Copy Code

4.  Go to Appearance > Widgets

Appearance > Widgets

5.  Add a text widget to the desired sidebar.

Text Widget

6.  Paste the code into the text widget.

Add Code

7.  Click Save.

8. You should now see the widget in your sidebar.

What Do You Think?

This post was originally written by Ronnie Burt, on the Edublogger, on Feb, 2012.  It’s been re-written with content and comments from the original post combined with updated content by Sue Waters. Dexter, the cat, is owned by Ronnie Burt 🙂  

Have we missed any important tips or good sites to find resources that are free to use?

Let us know in the comments below and we will be sure to add it to the post!

About Sue Waters

Support manager for Edublogs and CampusPress. Follow me on Twitter @suewaters!


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  1. I want my students to make PowerPoint presentations that have music playing in the background. These projects are strictly for school-only and will not be published on the web in any way. It is my understanding that because the projects will not be published publicly, that Fair Use for Education allows us to use popular music in this way, as long as we give the artists’ proper credit in the Works Cited. Am I correct about that? Or is that illegal usage of their music?

    Some further context of my question: we did this project last year, and we found the music on YouTube and then used the http://www.youtube-mp3.com website to download an MP3 of the song, then inserted the MP3 into their PowerPoints. I was planning to do the same thing this year, but it turns out that my school district is now blocking the youtube-MP3 convertor website. I think it’s blocked because of misunderstanding the Fair Use policy, so if I am correct and this really is legal, then I want to ask them to unblock it. But I cannot find a clear explanation that explains the legalities of using popular music for educational projects that will not be published publicly. Please help!!!

  2. Dear all,

    First, I compliment you responsible for this site. It is a helpful initiative. Although I read the questions and contents of this page, I still need to ask a question that may overlap to the ones already made.

    I work at a Public University (non-profit institution) and I commonly use data and images scanned from books or from scientific articles downloaded from the internet. I use these in Power Point files that are presented in classroom and what are available (only) to the students at the University web site.

    Up to the present moment I had no problems with this, but reading your posts, I am concerned in not infringing the Copyright laws!

    Considering that, is that alright to use the information/images the way I mentioned as long as I do reference the authors and year of the publication (or the web page) of the content that is used?

    Should I mention the Journal or Book I am using to withdraw the information?

    Thank you in advance!

  3. I work in a private (nonprofit) school working with students with special needs. I create many electronic materials for our students with several authoring programs. I often use Google images for my activities and place them in classrooms for teachers to use. Often they are used with electronic books that I author. I am very hesitant to put them on our school server’s because of possibly violating copyright laws. Can you please send me some information if that is a violation of copyright. If I site the source where the pictures came from, does that help. I just want to make sure I am within fair use for educational purposes. Thank you.

    • Sharon Maack-Connolly
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  4. What a great and accessible article this is. Just a quick note, the link in “For more, check out the Fair Use FAQ for Educators here from the excellent resource site, TeachingCopyright.org.” is broken and you might have forgotten to place a .html into the hyperlink.

    Thank you for such a valuable resource (:

  5. Your examples are all CC-BY-SA-NC, but you don’t point out that a NC licensed image is almost useless. It cannot be used on any web site that carries advertising or solicits money, which leaves out almost all the Web except personal sites with no advertising. It can’t be used in print unless the printed work is distributed free of charge. It can’t be used in an educational setting unless the school or event is completely free of charge.

    • Jameslwoodward
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  6. This is an excellent resource! I learned a lot, but I am still confused about in-class resources. What are the rules for using a picture for in-class PowerPoints? Are there different rules if I provide the slides for students verses if I don’t? If I don’t provided print copies, can I use random pics for visual aids?

  7. I am a Spanish teacher and there has been a large shift in the past 5 years away from using textbooks towards using authentic resources like Youtube videos for listening and Blogs for reading comprehension.
    How can I legally use other people’s blogs in my Spanish class if all my students cannot access the website at the same time? Can I use the text and photos? How to I cite this? What would I do if I wanted to share these materials with other teachers?

    I know this sounds like a jumble of thoughts but I have been stuck on this for six months!

    • Christina Cantrell
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    • Hi Christina, the best thing to do is just send the students links right to the original source (Youtube, blog, website etc.). This way, you don’t need to cite or have permission to use anything, you just send the students right to the content. Does that make sense?

  8. I think that this was really useful and really cleared up things I was stick on for copyright laws.

  9. Thanks for this post. Such an important concept and a bit complicated to enforce! I’m trying out the CompFight add-on on my blog…really like it!!

  10. Wow! This has to be one of the most comprehensive post I’ve read on this topic. Lots to digest.

    I am glad and very thankful for all of you for compiling this valuable resource.

    I am also glad that I joined the EdublogsClub.

    Muchas gracias!

    • Abraham Alarcon
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  11. that is sooooooooo cool!!!! i am a primary student.Nice to meet you!

    • josephistheawesome1
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  12. I am a classroom computer teacher, and our curriculum is teaching MS Office. I have my students do powerpoints, business cards, flyers, letterheads, etc. Is it legal to use images for classroom use only? They will never be published or used outside of the classroom.

    • Karis Elliott
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  13. Great guide! Thank you for sharing. Have you thought about licensing it under Creative Commons?

  14. Thank you for providing this excellent information. It offers readily available resources for me and my students to learn and comply with copyright laws.

    • formerlateacher
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  15. Thank you Sue! Your post is essential reading for all educators and their students. You’ve done a terrific job of curating the critical pieces and explaining how they pertain to school use. I am sharing this with my entire faculty!

    • Robert Schuetz
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    • Hi Bob

      Thanks for your comment and glad you found it helpful. I can’t take credit for the post. The post was originally written by Ronnie Burt, my work colleague, in Jan, 2012. I’ve taken the content, comments and structure from his original post and built on it by adding in additional information I’ve compiled over the years for the Teacher Challenge Series.

      I realized during the night that in my rush to get the finally published that I had forgotten to add that information into the post so added it this morning.

      • Yes, may we share this with our colleagues at school?

        • Janet Grenleski
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