Let’s say you’re a social studies teacher looking for some multimedia resources that will enhance a Battle of Gettysburg unit. You jump over to Google Images and do a quick search using appropriate keywords. Google returns over 327,000 results.

The problem?

Copyright issues.

The question?

What can you legally use? Most of us are very used to just taking whatever we want and have been doing so for years. We often comment on how our students are downloading and sharing illegal music but don’t often see anything wrong with downloading and sharing digital media for instruction.

It’s just for classroom use and I need it. It’s not like I’m stealing anything, it’s Fair Use.

Well . . . Fair Use depends on a lot of factors. And what you might think is legal, may not be. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of system in place that would answer most of your copyright issues and allow people to legally share all sorts of digital media?

You’re in luck! The Creative Commons people have worked very hard to create just such a system:

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.

We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.

The result?

People are creating and sharing digital media files in ways that allow others to use them in a wide variety of ways. It’s not so much eliminating copyright as providing a way for people to use the outdated copyright law in new ways. Basically what happens is that people create things and give other people “automatic” permission to use their work in a variety of ways – from completely unrestricted use to only non-profit, educational use with citation use.

So . . . back to your search for legal images of the Battle of Gettysburg. Google Images just recently began working with Creative Commons to update its image database. So now, for example, you can search Google Images for just photos of the Battle of Gettysburg that allow unrestricted use.

The Google guys explain it best:

To enable this feature, go to our advanced image search page. Under the “Usage rights” section, you can select the type of license you’d like to search for, such as those marked for reuse or even for commercial reuse with modification. Your results will be restricted to images marked with Creative Commons or other licenses. Once you confirm the license of the image and make sure that your use will comply with the terms of the license (such as proper attribution to the image’s owner), you can reuse the image.

Pretty simple! And you’re legal. Problem solved.

Of course, you should also encourage your students to do the same!

Other places that incorporate Creative Commons images or provide Fair Use access:

Social Studies Central Resources for Teachers
Flickr Creative Commons

Morgue File
New York Public Library
Nations Illustrated

Have fun!