The Internet has made a myriad of material readily available to a vast audience. Along with these seemingly infinite resources  has come a lot of confusion about how images and other content published online should be legally recognized, protected or used. As educators, we often struggle in navigating that road.

cc-free-contentI recently read an amusing but instructive article entitled “PSA: Don’t Let Salami and Google Images Get You In Hot Water.” It tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy who posted an image he found online of Salami on a class blog. Shortly thereafter, the school received a “Cease and desist” letter from the content creator threatening legal action. While the ridiculousness of the claim is amusing, it also highlights a rising concern for educators and students, as well as creators of content, about copyright and copyright infringement on the web. What can you use freely for education and what requires a fee? How do you cite material? What limitations might be placed on material that you can use?

In my classroom, we use a lot of image-based content. Most recently, my students are working on a Digital Storytelling project (you can see a highlight of the project in this article: “My First Attempt at Employing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom”). I work every year to teach my students about copyright and proper use of content. However, I know that it’s a learning experience for me as well.

One thing we have learned to look for is material with a Creative Commons License. Educating your students about the details of Creative Commons licensing is a prime example of incorporating Digital Literacy into an established classroom curriculum.

“A Creative Commons license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility (for example, the author might choose to allow only non-commercial uses of their own work) and protects the people who use or redistribute an author’s work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions the author has specified.” – Wikipedia

CC-searchThere are literally 10’s of millions of images on the Internet specifically covered by one of the six copyright licenses currently established under the Creative Commons protocols. You can read more details at the CC website, which notes that “Every license helps creators — we call them licensors if they use our tools — retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially.”

If you and your students rely on images covered by Creative Commons licenses — and learn and observe the license variations — you won’t be bothered with “cease and desist” emails over a sausage slice. And you can use several search tools to help you identify non-CC materials that are also free to use in your own work.

Finding Creative Commons & license-free material

This year, I have gathered (sometimes with the help of students) a number of ways to search for License-Free or Creative Commons Licensed content. Here are a few of the best: – Just what the site says, it focuses on purely Creative Commons Licensed products. You can use to license your own material. You can use their website to search for material on a myriad of sites (on the homepage, look under Explore and click on “Find CC-licensed works”).

Google Advanced Image Search – Google’s Advanced Image Search allows users to search using a filter for various kinds of “free to use” licensed content.


Fotopedia – Great for humanities, Fotopedia has a repository of images from around the world. What makes it so amazing is that it is entirely user built. So those photos you took during that vacation to Rome years ago? Make sure that you upload those to the site and build their library!

YouTube Creative Commons – While searching YouTube videos specifically for creative commons content is best done via Google Advanced Search or, it does merit mention here that YouTube has a strong video collection of Creative Commons content. Even more so, I greatly encourage that when you upload your own videos to YouTube, you check that “Creative Commons” License box!

Wikimedia Commons – Wikimedia is similar to Wikipedia except it is a database of Creative Commons and Open Source Licensed images, videos, and sounds. If you are a creator of content, this is a great place for you to show off your work!

Compfight – Compfight provides a myriad of images that are licensed for use on blogs and other publications and research (not for profit). They have been screened by humans and tagged in useful ways. Be sure to click on “Creative Commons” in the left margin so you just see the free licensed material. (A few rows of stock photos for sale appear at the top of your search.)

Pixabay – An amazing collection of public domain images free to use and share.

Edupic – A repository of images for educators and students to use free, designed by a teacher.

Pics4Learning – Another free-images site designed specifically for use by teachers and students.


Flickr – One of the most popular online tools for storing and sharing images, Flickr also expressly has a “Creative Commons” element (above) in their advanced search feature. Again, upload those vacation photos or drawings of your own and be sure to check that “Creative Commons” box to support education and creativity! (This page sorts Flickr CC images by type of license.)

Always give credit!

These sites are a great place for educators and students to get started. I’m sure that there are several other places to find Creative Commons or Open Source material. Please share in the Comments if you’re an educator and know of good places for classroom use.

And, even with Creative Commons, be sure to always cite the original piece! Even if you are allowed to use, distribute, and modify someone else’s work, you and your students should always give them credit. We all like credit.

Image credit: Matthias Mehidau, Creative Commons

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