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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!



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  1. This blog had a lot of valuable information, and it sorted the information easily. Often I find blogs to be one continuous paragraph which discourages my interest immediately. This was laid out well and titled each new portion of information, so that made the important facts and information easy to find and then delve more into certain topics and laws. I like knowing to be able to look for Public Domain when using resources for my classroom and how to obtain Creative Commons. This isn’t merely valuable information to know about what to use in my curriculum but ways to hold students accountable in assignments and projects so that they do not get into trouble continuing illegal use as they go into college.

  2. I learned: If an image or website does not include a Creative Commons license or is not Public Domain work or says that the content is free to use, then we SHOULD NOT USE!

    The easiest way to add Creative Commons images with attributions is by using Compfight Safe Images Plug In or Photos for Class

  3. My three take a ways from this blog:
    1. I can comfortably teach my teachers AND students using the information I learned from this blog.
    2. Although somewhat complicated and overwhelming, copyright laws are extremely important for both teachers and students to know.
    3. There are ways I can look to see if something has a Creative Commons license.

    • I like how you phrased “comfortably” because sometimes there is a lot of uncertainty in using information for curriculum. I think this blog laid out all the guidelines well.

  4. I’ve only been an elementary librarian for five years, and this blog revealed information that I had either forgotten or never heard. A VERY useful blog. Thanks! I can feel more confident in my knowledge of copyright as I share with and teach students and teachers.

  5. This information is very useful. This can save from infringing on others work that is so easly upload or downloded online. I am thankful for fair use and copy right laws.

    • Elizabeth A Johnson
  6. I found this blog to be interesting and informative. There was lots of information to absorb!!! Copyright laws are very tricky and there is a fine line between sharing correctly and illegally. I was not aware of the Creative Commons existence. This is a wonderful thing to know and helps to know that we (and our students) are using the images, video, etc. legally. I appreciate the fact that a list of websites where you can search for Creative commons exists. It was nice to learn that the videos on Youtube are free to use, as long as we are not altering them or only using portions of them. This is something I will definitely have to go back and reread several times to be able to remember all of the information.

    • Jessica Reale
    • I agree with you, Jessica! As informative and useful as this blog is, it certainly can be overwhelming; however, it’s information we all need to know. I TOO will have to go back and re-read certain parts, so I’m glad that this resource is available!

  7. This definitely a subject that should be taught to our students as soon as possible. I certainty wish I was exposed to this information before I started teaching. The information provided was very helpful.

    • I now know what the basic copyright laws are. I have a better understanding of what I should and should not do and what I can do as an educator. I also learned about Fair Use.

  8. The copyright laws are not simple and have many exceptions. It is interesting that websites are being monitored for misuse and people could be fines and taken to court. Creative Common is a generous use of materials for others using the appropriate guidelines. The guidelines for copyright are very detailed and complicated.

    • Carolyn DeBerry
    • I agree…..Copyright Laws can be very extensive and take lengthy research to gather the proper dos and don’ts. I’m also a Hugh fan of Creative Commons. I feel safe in the informations I utilize and gather from CC.

  9. Copyright is often a tricky subject for me. I appreciate all the videos being clear about how something is acceptable or not. Also, how to navigate the world of copyright and make good use of the sources available to us.

    • I agree this is a very tricky and overwhelming subject.

  10. This is great information to have. My daughter has learned the hard way that you just can’t use ones music on YouTube. If it belongs to someone you must have permission or they block the music.
    There are a lot of professionals that do not understand the how to properly use resources.

  11. The blog had very informative information, that was clearly written about copyright and creative commons. The three takeaways from the article are: what creative commons is; youtube copyrights’ and videos. Creative Commons is a license to give your work to people without having to give permission. If you see the icon you can use the material but without it you are going against copyright laws. I have never heard of Creative Commons before so this was all new information, and now I know what the Creative Commons license looks like! Videos are youtube were more confusing. Basically, I learned that you can embed youtube on websites or blogs if it gives you the embed option. If you are using the youtube information in any other way, it is copyrighted or be careful and read the rules to make sure because there is a lot of information. You cannot take youtube or videos and make mashups or make another video using one that was already created by cutting, adding, or changing the original. I think it is safe to just use Creative Commons license content or get permission from the copyright holder.

    • Kristen Curley
  12. A lot of great information!
    The children videos are really helpful in presenting information to children that will, hopefully, stay with them as they grow older in the electronic / internet world we live in today where everything is shared so easily with a click of a button. It’s important for them to learn to respect another person’s work.
    I really enjoyed the information Creative Commons Licensing section and video. I really believe that this is the way the future will lean towards and I kinda hope Copyright disappears in the near future as well.

    • I do agree and liked the definitive definitions of copyright and fair use. This was the best understanding of creative commons I have found. I have not heard of flickr so I will be using this in the future.

      • Kristen CUrley
    • I agree. The Creative Commons section and videos were very informative.

    • I agree that the videos were wonderful. Honestly, they helped me understand and I know it will make more sense to my students in elementary school.

      • Jessica Reale
  13. Thank you for this helpful information regarding copyright laws.

    • Kimberly Buchanan
  14. I appreciate the clear definitions of what is allowed and what is not. I did not realize Flickr had the different search options to help with fair use.
    I thought the videos were well done. Thank you for the links!

    • Janet Jennings
    • I liked the videos as well. I especially thought the children videos were excellent.

  15. I’m hoping someone can answer my question…
    I’m putting together an educational package to sell online. Part of the package will include a lengthy list of words (approx 700 lists of 8 words). Someone else has published and copyrighted a similar list that is part of a book.
    My question is, can I use similar words to the already published lists, but call the lists something different, put the words in a different order and format differently to the published lists? Or is this breaching copyright?

  16. WOW! Very eye opening to learn what is acceptable when using images, files, music and videos on the internet. I loved the YouTube videos to share with children as well as the free and public domain image websites to use with students. That will be extremely helpful in navigating students to use content for projects they will do in the class. Teachers and students are constantly on the internet using work, pictures, etc… to add to their learning.

    • Melissa Bubany
    • I also liked the YouTube videos for students. I believe that we are just as responsible for teaching them the ins and outs of copyright as we are for learning it ourselves.

      • I agree! It helps to have simple video to use to teach students about copyright, especially if you, like me, teach in an elementary school.