Copy Cat! Copy Cat!

Images are important in education. They are used to illustrate teaching points, clarify information and inspire. Images convey emotions, capture the imagination and express powerful ideas. And we use a lot of images in schools. 

Generally, we glean these images from the various websites, aided and abetted by Google (other search engines are available). After discarding those that are in appropriate and of poor quality most searchers are still faced with hundreds if not thousands of free images to use as they see fit.

Except that these images are not free for us to use however we like. Just like images, videos, pieces of music and text in the physical world, online or virtual resources are covered by copyright. And using copyright materials in school could lead to prosecution and a hefty fine! 



Copyright is a way to protect the asset creator’s right to be acknowledged as the creator and allows the creator or owner an opportunity to exploit their work for a period of time before the asset passes into the ‘public domain’.

Everything has a copyright. Copyright comes into existence as soon as the asset is created. There is no need for copyright to be stated explicitly or labelled with ©. Most physical assets do carry copyright details but online publishers (and remember anyone who puts something online is a publisher) tend not to bother. The absence of a copyright notice or © does not mean that the asset is in the public domain.

Everyone needs to respect copyright. There’s no bottom line saying” Copyright doesn’t apply to us we are a school!” Failing to respecting copyright can lead to schools being fined.

Does this mean I can’t use web images in my worksheets or teaching presentations?

No it doesn’t. There are a number of 'permitted acts' and 'exceptions' for education in the UK Copyright Act that schools should be aware of and use, which means not having to seek out permissions in some cases.

These include:

  • Non-commercial research and personal study,
  • copying of works in any medium solely to illustrate a point, it is not done for commercial purposes, it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, and the use is fair dealing.
  • performing, playing or showing copyright works in a school, university or other educational establishment for educational purposes. The audience must be limited to pupils, teachers and other persons associated with the school – not parents.
  • Recording a TV programme or radio broadcast for non-commercial educational purposes in an educational establishment, provided there is no licensing scheme in place. Generally a licence will be required from the Educational Recording Agency)
  • making copies by using a photocopier, or similar device on behalf of an educational establishment for the purpose of non-commercial instruction, provided that there is no licensing scheme in place. Generally a licence will be required from the Copyright Licensing Agency

Publishing copyright materials

The exceptions and permitted acts allowed under UK copyright law are only applicable to materials used in the classroom or by pupils as part of their homework. What you absolutely must not do is publish copyright assets. It’s probably ok for you to use copyright images in a presentation to your class or in a worksheet. If you sold those resources to your colleagues, shared them via Facebook or included them in an ebook you self-published on iBooks you would have breached copyright laws and could be prosecuted by the copyright owner. Using the image in a newsletter to parents might be a bit risky.

The copyright rules also apply to children’s use of protected assets.

How bad could a breach of copyright be?

A teacher in an E2BN school was so pleased with her year 5 pupils’ presentations on Space that she put some of the presentations on the school web site. One of the pupils had used an image from the moon landings. He had copied the image from the website of a well know commercial image library. The image library uses some sophisticated software that searches for breaches of its copyright and found the image on the schools website. The library contacted the school, noting the copyright breach and included an invoice for the licence fee. The licence fee was several thousand pounds! And the school was legally bound to pay the invoice.

How can I be sure that I don’t breach copyright laws?

Where ever possible create your own assets. If you need a photograph of a tree nip outside with your camera phone and take one. You’ll own the copyright.

There are lots of collections of assets that teachers and pupils can use without worrying about copyright. Some collections are free i.e. E2BN Gallery.  Some require the purchase of a licence.  All E2BN can use Audio Networks under the E2BN licence agreement.

Keep your usage within the ‘exceptions’ and ‘permitted acts’ of the Copyright Act.

When searching for images on the web using Google filter by licence by clicking Search Tools then Usage Rights. Choose an appropriate category.

Acknowledge your sources (and teach your pupils to this too). Its good manners. It only takes a few seconds.

Especially if you are going publish, display or share the asset ask permission before and absolutely do not publish/ put on your website anything produced by someone else where you are not 100% sure that copyright has been respected.

Familiarise yourself with copyright laws at:

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