Finding free image resources without violating copyright

copyrightWhen I was a new teacher I often had students create projects that included images where they did not cite the source or where the source of the image was “Google”.  Most students innocently thought that if an image was online, and they could right click (or touch and hold on an iPad) to save, it that it was their right to do so and to use it in any way they pleased.  Most were shocked to find that even if they did cite the source it was possible that they were in violation of copyright laws anyway.

As teachers it’s important that we educate our students about copyright and making sure that they have permission to use the images in their projects. While it is true that many times students and teachers are protected from copyright infringement claims based on the “fair use” doctrine for materials used in school, it’s a complicated law and the easiest way to make sure that you are on the right side of the law is to get permission to use an image. For a great overview of fair use and copyright check out this article from The Social Media Examiner.

Luckily there are several great websites that host images that you and your students can use for free and if you follow their easy to read rules on giving them proper attribution, you don’t have to worry about violating copyright laws or trying to directly contact the copyright holder.


 Pics4Learning – Student safe copyright free images for education. Easy to use and good for younger students.

The following sites are not aimed specifically for students, images that might be seen as objectionable are rare and generally prohibited from these sites.  I would always suggest checking them out based on your project parameters first. Another option is for you to search for the images and allow students to use them once you do a pre-screen.

Free Images – Free Stock Photography – Over 10,000 amazing free stock images that you and your students can use in online and offline projects, just make sure to give proper attribution. The search feature on this site isn’t very useful, but they do have the images sorted into categories. They have an easy to understand rules posted right on their website under their “terms and conditions” section.

Free Pixels – Click on the “search” button in the upper right corner for advanced search options that make finding the right image easy. Search by category, key words, portrait, landscape or square, and other options. Again, don’t forget to check out the “terms and conditions” for use restrictions and attribution requirements.

Public Domain – High quality searchable and sortable images and clip art. These images are all listed as being in the public domain which means that the copyright holder has relinquished all rights to them.

Free – Large social media/stock image site that allows users to upload photos to share as well as free use of the images that are shared, with proper attribution of course. In addition to the “terms and conditions” you also need to check the license on each image as some do differ.

Free Stock Photos – Almost 15,000 free stock photos and clip art to download.  Each image is tagged with the Creative Commons license, so double check that you are not violating the individual copyright holder’s policy. Most are free to use as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and you provide proper attribution.

You can also use regular Google image searches and refine your search based on the “Usage Rights” of the image. This option is found in the Google image search under “Search Tools”.  You just always need to double check the website that the image comes from to make sure that you really can use the image for free and what the specific attribution requirements are for that image.

usage rights

Of course, another great option is to have students create their own images, since then they own the copyright.