Creative Commons – Here to Save you from a Copyright Impasse

Thirty-nine thousand years ago, humans were using images to record and communicate ideas, long before any form of writing was developed. In our digital era, this quintessential means of communication is more relevant than ever. With the amount of information available at a click’s distance, images can help pique the audience’s interest and steer them towards certain content, but also, as many studies have concluded, images will make any message more memorable. But, how memorable? Take a look:



Naturally, educators of all grade levels use images to engage students with the curriculum on a daily basis. Images, really, are part and parcel of teaching. With millions of images readily available in seconds through any search engine, it is too easy for unsuspecting teachers and students to infringe copyrights (you can read my post of copyright in education here). If I failed to convey the intricacies of copyright in education in my post, you can also read here how the European Court of Justice granted damages to a photographer after a school in Germany uploaded student work to the school’s blog that contained an unlicenced photograph from the aforementioned photographer. This is where the Creative Commons licenses come to play a major role in helping everyone know how and when they can use a source. Furthermore, by choosing a Creative Commons license, creators can determine very clearly the conditions under which they are sharing their work with the world.



Creative Commons Images in my Teaching

For a few years now, I have used Creative Commons licensed images in a variety of teaching materials, but also as teaching tools of digital and media literacy with my students. In my role as Head of Grade 6, I create support materials that the homeroom teachers can use throughout the year. At my school, we meet in homeroom groups once a day for 20 minutes and once weekly for a 65-minute period. During the daily homeroom time, the homeroom teachers touch base with the students, and give them time to check their school email and read the daily notices. There is usually some time free once those tasks have been completed, so we wanted to have ready-made activities for that time. One of the activities that we came up with (using inspiration from #miss5thwhiteboard and other similar posts on Pinterest), was presenting prompts for the students to respond to that served as conversation starters. I created a slideshow for each day of the week that included ten prompts for each. I used an image for each prompt to enhance the understanding of the prompt. All the images I used for these slideshows were from Unsplash, which licenses the images so they can be used for free, for commercial and non-commercial purposes and don’t require attribution. In spirit, this license is almost the same as the CC0 Creative Commons license. If you want to know why Unsplash images don’t contain the CC0 license, you can look here. Without further ado, below are a sample of our prompts.



Another example on how I have used Creative Commons images recently was with my Grade 8 Language Acquisition class. At the start of our first unit this year, the students worked in groups to produce a poster that included the concepts and the Global Context exploration of our unit. The students later on voted for the best poster which I used in our notice board and as the cover of our OneNote notebook for this unit. The only requirement, the poster should have an evocative CC0 license image that is connected to the concepts or the GC exploration. For this activity, we talked about images and their copyright and I elicited from the students what they knew about searching for CC0 license images. Although many of my students were not clear on what I meant by CC0, after explaining the license, sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash were mentioned by some (definitely way more work to do with this lot with regard to media literacy!). To expand their repertoire, I also introduced Pexels and Skitterphoto. The winning poster was:

You will notice that the poster does not include an attribution to the photographer. Before the students started their search for images, we discussed how the images found on the sites mentioned earlier had a CC0 license or similar that didn’t require attribution. We also discussed why it is important, that despite that fact, it is good to acknowledge the author nonetheless. Well, this group didn’t do that, which offered me the opportunity to revisit this idea once this poster was the one chosen by the class.

As I said before, I still have a lot of work to do with my students with regard to facilitating their understanding of copyright and the Creative Commons, but I know that opportunities to talk about these topics and to practice come by often, but I have to make sure that they do not slip by.

Featured image by Leah Kelley from Pexels


3 thoughts on “Creative Commons – Here to Save you from a Copyright Impasse

  1. It is so true that it is so easy for both teachers and students to infringe copyrights. I know that personally I have seen colleagues, students, and myself do it unknowingly simply from lack of knowledge on the topic. For that reason, I am so thankful for Creative Commons, it does indeed come to save the day for us all.

    I absolutely love your conversation starter posters slides. They are beautifully designed and definitely eye catching and engaging. The Unsplash images you used to enhance the understanding of the prompts are spot on. The color choices and font style work so well together as well. Very nice work!

    I do something similar with my class for warmups but slightly different. Each Monday is a ‘Question of the Day’ similar to this, but I simply write the question on the board for discussion. But seeing these make me think I could do so much better with it. Would you mind sharing the slideshows you made with me so I can use some with my class? I would probably change some of the questions and the days written on the top to make them fit with our weekly schedule and to suit my little ones if that is ok. Of course I would also give you credit for creating them as well!

    As always great post and you are continuing to do a great job facilitating your students’ understanding of copyright and Creative Commons. I need to keep your final words in mind to make sure not to let those opportunities to talk about those things slip by when they arise. Thank you for the reminder!


  2. I still have so many questions about copyright, especially when it comes to the use of music tracks and photographs. When in doubt, I just go for Creative Commons licensed sources instead, just to be on the safe side. I have sent you a PM with the link to the files 🙂


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