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judge's gavel

Think you have educational immunity? Think again.

judge's gavel
By Chris Potter (Flickr: 3D Judges Gavel) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Every day, we and our students create content that is shared and published online. When it comes to using images and other files from the internet, many teachers think they can use anything they want because they have educational immunity under the Fair Use doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, individual teachers, schools, and even districts have been sued for copyright infringement.

Fair Use is decided on a case-by-case basis. When deciding whether using material falls under Fair Use, you must consider four things:

  1. Is the use transformative? Did you add value to the work?
  2. What was the nature of the original?
  3. How much of the original was used?
  4. Will your use of the material affect the market for the original?

Judges can interpret things in different ways, so you must be extremely careful using works (especially creative ones like music and images) that are not yours. You can use a Fair Use checklist to help you determine if material falls under Fair Use. There are many available. I like the one at 

A better way to go may be to use material that is in the public domain or licensed under Creative Commons. Material in the public domain doesn’t have  to be cited; however, it is good practice to do so to show respect for the work of others. Material licensed under Creative Commons may be used freely as long as the terms of the license are respected. There are various types of CC licenses. A good, short video explanation can be found at

To cite Creative Commons material, follow the TASL rule: provide as much information as you can about the Title, Author, Source, and License of the material. In an online publication, links should be provided. See the image in this post for an example. For more complete information, including the types of licenses and how to cite material, visit the main Creative Commons website,

Creative Commons material is available all over the web and you can find it in a number of ways. You may want to start by visiting my copyright-friendly Symbaloo webmix.  It contains links to many websites where you can find images, music, and videos that are in the public domain or have been licensed for use.

A version of this post was published on the LVUSD Ed Services blog.