A Teacher’s Short Guide to Finding Electronic Media for Use (Legally)

When creating instructional materials for students it’s always useful to have images and other media to spice up your content. In our STEM projects we are often directing students to create their own electronic materials using media they find online.

The path of least resistance is to claim “fair use” over the media we use and that copyright law doesn’t really apply in this educational context. Unfortunately, the truth is a little more complicated.

In the common core standards students are tasked with writing for a global audience. This necessarily means that this content shared with a global audience is subject to all the copyright laws that apply to anyone else publishing to a global audience.

In short, as teachers we need to learn how to find and attribute the media we’re using in the instructional materials we create; if for no other reason than that we are tasked with teaching our students digital citizenship and how to use electronic media in a responsible way.

The good news is that it’s actually fairly easy to find media that is legal to reuse. You just have to search for them.

There two types of media readily available online that can be used safely and easily: Public Domain and Creative Commons.

Public Domain | No attribution needed

Public Domain | No attribution needed

  • Works in the Public Domain are works who have no property rights attached. If you find a media file in public domain you are completely free to copy and reuse or alter without attributing the work to anyone else.

Image: Creative Commons / Karin Dalziel / CC BY (cropped)

  • Works with a Creative Commons License can be used freely as long as you do two things:

(1) Properly attribute the work. This needs to include the creator’s name, URL of the image, and link to the type of CC license. Sounds like a bunch of information, but it can be easily done in one short byline under the image. See the example on the left.

(2) Use them in accordance with the terms of the type of CC license. This is why it’s important to link to the type of CC license in the first step. There are several types of CC licenses:

It may look confusing but you’re able to use all types of CC licenses.  The license terms have the following meaning:

  • Attribute= As mentioned above you must share the creator’s name, URL, and type of CC license.
  • Share Alike = If you modify the image attach the same CC license to your new image.
  • No Derivative= You are not free to alter the image.
  • Non-Commercial= You can’t use the image in content that you sell.

In the next post I’ll show you how easy it is to find Public Domain and Creative Commons images to use.

Types of CC Licenses

Types of CC Licenses



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