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Copyright Considerations for Student Work  

The Fair Use of the work of others for educational purposes is interpreted differently for work shared within the confines of a class than for work published openly.
Last Updated: Jun 8, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Class Project or Public Publication?

You do have legal rights to re-use and re-purpose images and other creations as long as you follow the Fair Use guidelines (see the box to the right).

But these rights are not the same when your audience is your professor and your fellow students as compared to if you publish your project for the world to see (as, on a Web page, YouTube, or other open site).

BEFORE you decide to place a project out on the open web, get permission for each image, song, or portion thereof that you have incorporated into your work.  If you aren't sure the content created by others is being used with permission of the creator(s), you would be better to either replace it with original content of your own creation (photos, songs you wrote and performed, etc.) or just keep your project private.


Copyright Concerns

When you use images created by others to illustrate points in your work for a class you should consider Fair Use allowances for educational purposes.  Many uses of images that are legal for student class projects would be violations of the Copyright Act if used in other settings or situations, including - but not limited to - commercial uses.


To be sure your use is fair and legal, consider these four Fair Use factors:

  • What is the purpose of the use?
  • What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
  • How much of the work will be used?
  • What is the market effect on the original work of the use?

These are all explained in depth at Strategies for Fair Use (from the Purdue Online Writing Lab:  OWL)


The purpose of using images from other sources should be educational.

Only the images of others that are necessary to illustrate your point.  Don't simply decorate your project with copyrighted works of others!

When you use others' work, be sure to give proper attribution so it is clear who created the work in case someone wants to find more of that person's work.

The BEST way to be sure you are not infringing on the rights of copyright holders is to create your own images.  Get out your camera and take photos you can use, or draw or otherwise create your own images.

Do NOT upload your project to the open web if it contains images for which you have not gotten permission from the image creators to do so.

Don't distribute pamphlets you create beyond the students in your class.  If you want to use them beyond classroom use, get permission for each of the images or create your own images.


Finding Images to Use Freely and Fairly

SOURCES FOR IMAGES YOU CAN USE ANY WAY YOU CHOOSE: – Search engine finds free images on the web.  Some of the sources this search engine uses are described below.  The "Advanced Search" gives you useful options.


Anything with a Creative Commons sharing license carries permissions that would allow use for work to be displayed in this class.  Some allow MORE uses, so if all your images are CC licensed with an appropriate license, you could distribute them online since permissions are granted.  Note they all do require ATTRIBUTION for any type of use.

To find images with CC licenses you can use (above) or directly in the CC site:

-  Go to the Creative Commons search site, read the disclaimer about being sure about your results, and use any of the resources they recommend.  Be sure to give appropriate attribution (see boxes on the left of this page).

Wikimedia Commons 

Contribute, share, use.  Images and other media files.  "Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone.. "

-  Go to the Wikimedia site, search, find files you want to use.  Be sure to give appropriate attribution (see boxes on the left of this page).

Google and Yahoo have image searches.  Flickr is also a good site for user contributed images.  These can be searched with or without a limiter for CC licenses.  Be careful:  not all the images on these sites carry sharing licenses!

  • FOR EXAMPLE:  Using Google's Image Search, first enter a word and run a search.  On the results page, you should now see a GEAR-shaped ICON near the upper left of your screen.  That ICON allows you to enter Google's ADVANCED image search, and on the ADVANCED search page you can limit by "usage rights" to find images with sharing licences.
  • Look for similar limiters in Yahoo or Flickr's sites...


Fair Use copyright laws allow you more latitude, so you can use other sources, with appropriate attribution, as long as you keep your final publication as a classroom assignment only and it does not become publicly accessible.  It should not be distributed publicly, even for free, without permission for each image unless you gain explicit permission for each image from the copyright owner.


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