Rightfully, much of our focus with students is on the avoidance of plagiarism in terms of properly citing and paraphrasing text. However, students are citizens of the digital universe and need to understand the rules (and laws) that regulate our use of copyrighted material, including digital images.
Copyright law is tricky to understand! It's true! Yet, there are some basic guidelines that will help us.
- Any work that is put down in tangible format is automatically copyrighted. There is no special paperwork one needs to submit (although you can). Once you create it - you own it! And you own all of the rights to copy, distribute, and alter it. This includes digital images; indeed it includes all material on the Internet.
- Most government documents are in the public domain and are available for us to use.
- There is some leeway for educators to use copyrighted material (but not as much as we may think). This is called fair use.
There are several directions we can take when teaching our students to avoid misusing copyrighted images.
- Direct them to use databases, such as AP Images.
- Encourage them to cite images as frequently as they cite text sources.
- Teach them about copyright friendly image websites, such as wikimediacommons.
- Show them the Google search feature that narrows a Google image search to filter by usage rights. This helps focus an image search to those images that may be available as a Creative Commons or Public Domain image.