Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.
Here’s a great question I got:
I am having my kids create websites that will not be shared publicly. They are “Googling” images and I just want to know what are the copyright rules for such images? Should I limit their images only from certain “free” graphic sites? Just confused by all the rules like creative commons, public domain, copyright etc.. They asked if they can use pictures from Microsoft and I honestly don’t know what the rules are or how to explain them in 4th grade terms.The kids are not trying to sell anything, just creating a site as a way to share their research. They know how to site online resources that contain facts but not sure what to do with images. Is just providing the URL from the website that the image was on acceptable?
Maybe, if those images are copyright-free. If they aren’t, you just can’t use them.
A couple rules of thumb apply:
- Online images are fine (including Google):
- if the images themselves don’t show copyright notices. Some do and those must be avoided. Others have easily-identifiable sources like NASA or Hubble. Many are copies of copies with no origination trail.
- if a single copy is required for scholarly research or use in teaching or preparation to teach a class.
- if the image has fallen into the ‘public domain’
- But don’t assume online images are fine without verifying that conclusion. Show students how to look for evidence of copyright protections (see below), watermarks, and any notifications about fair use.
Before using these images, take time to introduce students to the ideas of copyright protections and privacy issues. I explain what those are, demonstrate how to use best practices to avoid infringing. I teach this unit every year, making the details age-appropriate and more thorough as students mature in their understanding of the process.
Here’s a good list of copyright-free image/clip art websites:
- Creative Commons
- Flikr–they list their restrictions–this is a good learning tool
- Flikrcc–only creative commons images on Flikr
- Free Photo
- Morgue File–free images, but check the licenses first
- Open Clip Art
- Open Photo
- Smithsonian Wild–200,000 animal pictures!
- Stock Exchange
- Wiki Images
- This Wikipedia list
- This list of 45 sites (some repeats of the above)
Although these are great, they are too limiting for inquiring minds, sometimes not age-appropriate (Google has safe search which helps keep images specific to an age group) and unnecessary. Remember what we teach students about using the internet: What goes up there is public for all to see and steal (by ‘steal’, I mean: Be aware that what you put up on the internet, people will re-use, quote with attribution, claim as their own, feeling protected by the vastness of the internet). The same applies to images.
The table below explains the the symbols used in creative commons licences:
For a good YouTube on how Creative Commons is working to share the wealth, click here.
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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and five ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.