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Breaking the Google Images habit

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Started by Brenda Crozier 18 Dec 2013 9:42am () Replies (5)

Media literacy - Breaking the Google Images habit

 [This was originally posted by Suzie Vesper on  09 Jul 2012. This is cross-posted as part of the transition of Software for Learning to Enabling e-Learning]

Almost every teacher and student knows that Google Images is a place to find pictures for a lesson, powerpoint or for a class project. However, not many people are aware of the legalities of using these pictures.  

A common misconception is that these images can be used freely but a Google Image search will present you with pictures from any website regardless of the copyright of that image.  

Enabling e-learning logoAs teachers, we need to model for our students how we go through the appropriate steps to find and use images. We also need to have high expectations of our students that they will do the same thing. 
Ethical, responsible use of others’ information is central to digital citizenship, and a key concept to consider when schools’ review the way ICTs are used teaching and learning (see e-Learning Planning Framework: Teaching for more information)

Who owns the image I have found? Is it copyright?

Generally, if a search for images takes you to a website where there is no copyright information about that image, then you have to assume that the image is subject to copyright and therefore can not be used without permission of the owner. If the owner is deceased, there can be exceptions to this based on the time that has passed since their death. For more information, visit the Digital NZ copyright status flowchart.  Another way to find images that you know you can reuse is to search for images licensed with a Creative Commons license.

What are the Creative Commons licenses?

There are six types of Creative Commons licenses. The most open Creative Commons license is ‘Attribution’ where the image can be used in any way as long as information stating the author and the source of the image is provided where the image is used. e.g. Image by Digi Advisor on Flickr.  Other Creative Commons licenses place additional restrictions on the use of the image such as not being able to use the image for profit or not being able to make any changes to the image.  For a full explanation of Creative Commons licenses, visit the Creative Commons New Zealand website

How do I find a Creative Commons image?

There are a number of useful sites and search tools for finding Creative Commons images. 

Google Advance Image Search

Google Images Advanced Search provides tools for filtering search results to only show images that have been licensed with a Creative Commons license. 

  1. Do a general search in Google Images
  2. Choose the ‘Options’ icon to open the advanced search options.
  3. Look for the drop down menu next to ‘Usage rights’ near the bottom of the advanced search screen.
  4. Choose ‘Free to use or share’ to find ‘Attribution’ licensed images. The other options relate to each of the other Creative Commons licenses so make sure students choose the appropriate one based on how the image will be used.


Another key site for finding Creative Commons images is Flickr which has a huge user base and therefore a large number of images. Flickr users are able to apply a Creative Commons license to their images at the point of uploading.  There are a third party search tools that will help you to locate Creative Commons Flickr images:

  • Compfight searches within Flickr and allows you to filter search results by clicking Creative Commons in the sidebar. The main advantage of Compfight is that it tiles a large number of images on a single page allowing you to scan many images at once.
  • FlickrCC Search allows you to specify the type of Creative Commons licence while using it to search Flickr images. It provides all of the attribution information you will need when reusing the image.  

Other Creative Commons search tools

There are also search tools that will search a range of sites that allow users to use Creative Commons licenses when they upload content such as the Creative Commons search tool.

Final summary

We all need to know how to find and use content from websites while modelling being good digital citizens. Students need to understand that just because they can copy and paste an image, it doesn’t mean that they should. Teaching students alternatives to a standard Google Image search is one way to help promote the appropriate use of digital content.

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Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship

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