Things to Know about Copyright Law



If you are to create digital artifacts that include text, images, or audio that you did not create, you should know the rules about what is fair, what is legal, and what is not.

This Quest will let you say “I can:”

  • distinguish between free and royalty-free
  • distinguish between the six Creative Commons licenses
  • identify fair use and violations of fair use
  • find free and royalty-free images and music
  • Distinguish between legal and illegal copying
  • Be able to find images and audio that I can include in my artifacts

Royalty Free Music and Images

There are several different licenses that control how and whether you can use images and sound that you find on the internet. Some music and images are royalty free or in the public domain. “Royalty-free” means that you do not have to pay for each time the image for each project you use the image for; however, many royalty-free images require you to license their use. One way to find sound and images that you can include in your work is to search for these terms.

See what searches will return images that you can use on your internet and classroom materials.

Creative Commons

Another type of copyright that you should be familiar with are the Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses were designed to allow content creators a way to share their work under certain circumstances without giving up all of their rights by placing the content in the public domain. For example, you can re-use the work, but you must give attribution to the creator, or you can remix it, but only for non-commercial purposes, and so on. You should be familiar with the different types of Creative Commons Licenses. You should make sure to check out the Creative Commons Search.

You might search for images with “creative commons” as search terms, and find something like Flicker’s Creative Commons page.

Fair use

There are times that incorporating commercial work into your work is fair and legal. A cute and clever first place to start learning about Fair use is A Fair(y) Use Tale. A more serious place is Stanford’s Copyright & Fair Use site. In particular, you should see the section on Educational Fair Use. Briefly, you can use up to 30 seconds or 10% of a work. But no, really, you should click at least on the Educational Fair Use link above so that you know what it is that you can legally use in your classroom.

An interesting story about Fair Use is Gregg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, whose albums consist only of 30 second Fair Use samples of commercial works. You can read more about his work from the New York Times, or this blog post.


You should understand hotlinking and bandwidth theft and how both parties are affected. Spend at least 2 (but no more than 10) minutes learning what hotlinking is before reading my search and salient links (both in the top 5 hits in summer and fall of 2015).

Hotlinking is linking to images that are not on your server. This steals bandwidth from the source site, that is, they pay for the image to be transmitted to your users who think that the image came from your site, which is not very nice. This practice also puts you at risk in the event that they later remove (or just move) the image, or, worse, change it to something else, sometimes called “link rot.”

What you should do, given that it is legal to use the image in the first place, is to copy the image to your hard drive and upload it to your own site before adding it to a page on your own site.

Sometimes, though, people explicitly say that it is acceptable to hotlink if you give proper attribution (which you should do anyway).

(See the original here.)

An interesting feature of Discourse is that if you add an image via a URL (as I did for the comic above) it will, when you are not looking, download it to a local copy and change the link. Check it out. Immediately after you click the save button, right-click the image and see that the link is to the original site. A few minutes later, right click the same image and see that it is now hosted on this site.

NOTE: Flickr does NOT always mean free. If you see then you can look at it, but you cannot put it on your own site.

This FreeTechnologyForTeachers post includes tips for finding images.

Sharing Articles

For copyrighted articles, the rules of Fair Use apply. For the most part, if you work for an institution that subscribes to a journal, it is legal for you to share articles that you download with your students. I argue that you still shouldn’t. Providing students with the DOI sees that they know about DOIs and allows your institution’s library to have tracking data showing that the journal was actually being used.

For more than you possibly want to know about how and when you can share articles that you download, you can check out this document from Science Direct.

What to do:

  1. Reread the top of this post and affirm that you can say “I can” for each of the objectives.
  2. Find 3 images, from three different sources, of a subject that you are likely to use in the near future that are legal for you to use in your work (including this site). For each image include
  3. The image itself so we can see it here
  • the license of the image
  • a link to the page where you got them so that others can see the license connected with the image (something like this).
  1. Find one legal-to-use audio clip. Include the link to the site where the audio is available showing the copyright, and a link directly to the audio.

Follow the standard turn it in procedures.

Tag with #copyrightlaw

Hopefully This is Legal