Revisiting Creative Commons: the 4th Prong to Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use

I was recently asked by an administrator to share with our faculty tips about finding images and media for projects so that we can model for our students how to find appropriate and licensed images and media for use. This led me to review, revisit, and revise how I tackle and present concepts of copyright, fair use and Creative Commons licenses. Most academic institutions realize it is important to revisit topics of academic property and intellectual rights with staff every couple of years; if not, annually. In the process of dusting off my own knowledge of the topic and looking at the ways our students and faculty are using media I stumbled upon some new angles to share efficient and relevant ways to find images and media.

It started with a question from a teacher,” Can you share that website that has the ‘free’ images with students?” I am sure many of you have been asked this question and have offered up resources that direct teachers to places to find images labeled “free to use.” While this is one of the most common ways many librarians tackle the complex intersection of copyright, fair use, and creative common license; I specifically and purposefully, have shifted my language away from using the words “free” to “licensed to use” as a slight paradigm shift in this topic. I choose this shift because of the role Creative Commons has emerged over the years for offering ways for creatives, artists, and  content creators to share and take control of how their works are offered for use in our digital landscape. I see CC licenses now as the fourth prong to the discussion of copyright, public domain and fair use. I went down the “rabbit hole” of reviewing my own understanding of these concepts. Then of course, I created a libguide for our faculty built from the previous work of my librarian colleagues with the addition of new perspectives I gathered. In my mind’s eye, I pictured this information as a Venn diagram, albeit in the shape of the square content boxes of libguide construction. I felt renewed in my understanding of how these concepts of attribution and use relate to each other, and I nerded out on how I could convey these complexities to teachers that have limited time; and in this year, of especially strained circumstances, limited bandwidth. I had ten minutes of a “captured audience” in a morning faculty meeting in which to convey this information, so the libguide would need to serve as the follow up resource for anything I did not get to cover in the meeting. Here is my attempt at thoroughness while navigable (click image below to view the libguide).

So needless to say, I did not start the presentation with, “ today, we are going to look at copyright, fair use, and creative commons.” Instead, I shifted to sharing tools they could immediately use as a backdoor to eventually addressing the copyright conversation. Which brings me to the question: have any of you noticed lately that Google image search usage tools are now using Creative Commons Licensing language as a filtering choice? So I showed them how to use the usage tool in a Google image search. Some of you will remember that Google used to have four different filters for searching images, now they have broken down to two: Creative Commons Licenses and Commercial Licenses. Because Google made the switch I could move our faculty and students to the switch too. It gave me the opportunity to discuss what Creative Commons licenses are, and how it relates to copyright. Additionally, Google is linking licensing details and source links to the original work more clearly. By showing them a tool they could use immediately, I captured their attention and many of them found this useful for class projects. I additionally showed them how to find CC licensing information on an image when they are using the internal image insert tool in Google slides as well. The little magnifying glass in the bottom right corner of the images lets your track back to the original images to check on its license for use. The following pictures illustrate the steps.

Google Image Search Usage Tool

Google Slides Internal Image Search

Video Demos

Here is the same information in video form to see the search process.

I am grateful for the faculty I work with and learn from in a symbiotic relationship. They were attentive and receptive to the information I shared. Several of them immediately sent me an email thanking me for the useful information. Several 6th grade language arts teachers invited me to do a mini-lesson of these searching for “images license to use”  with their classes. Additionally, a math teacher shared that they were adding this process to one of their presentation assignments in which students would add photo credits and attributions on all images in their slides. This made my librarian heart sing that our sixth graders were starting on the pathway to proper photo attribution in creative projects; normally, a skill introduced in later grades.

I am always reminded that when we have to teach a concept to others we learn and retain more ourselves. I am thankful that my administration always loops the library program into faculty information sessions. I have learned more and refreshed my view of copyright, fair use, and now Creative Commons. I have even started to license my own content with the CC nomenclature. The following post is licensed under .

8 thoughts on “Revisiting Creative Commons: the 4th Prong to Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use

  1. Thanks, Courtney for presenting a complex subject in a clear and understandable way. I imagine (hope) your faculty realize what a terrific resource you are!

  2. I’m late to read this post. Thanks to Claire for the re-promotion links. I always think of this topic so linearly; thinking of four prongs helps a great deal. I like the layout of the libguide– awesome! Thank you for sharing!

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