Digital Storytelling and Copyright

Delhi from a Rickshaw Russian Military Honour Guard

This term all of our Year 9 students are creating either digital book trailers or digital stories  – a fabulous unit developed by one of our teacher-librarians and our assistant Head of English (if you’d like to know more, they will be  presenting a session on Digital Narratives at the joint SLAQ/IASL Conference in Brisbane in September)  This unit  has also provided us with an excellent opportunity to talk to the boys about copyright legalities, Creative Commons licencing, and public domain or royalty-free links.

With instant access to millions of images and sound tracks on the internet, it is always tempting for students just to copy anything which suits what they are looking for, without them actually reading the copyright information or terms and agreements associated with those images or sounds. While many of these are free for personal use (just themselves and their immediate families), or for in-school educational use, they are not allowed to be re-published on YouTube or Facebook or elsewhere on the internet, unless special permission has been granted by the owner, either directly or under a Creative Commons licence, or because they are in the Public Domain.

Public Domain means that music and images are free to use without having to ask permission for use from the owner. They automatically go into the public domain either 70 years after they were first published, or 70 years after the owner has died. The owner may also choose to waive his/her right to copyright.  This means that a lot of images in the public domain are older images – it’s a good source of historical and war images. Use the Digital Copyright Slider to find when a work will be available for public domain use.

Creative Commons is a way for people to licence their work so that it can be used by others, but only in the way they specify. Each of the symbols used has a meaning – to find out what these are visit the Creative Commons website. Images and music published under a Creative Commons licence can be used without infringing copyright, so long as it is used exactly the way the owner speciified. Students can publish their own work (if it’s legally their own) under one of the Creative Commons licences, and this then gives others the opportunity to use it without infriging copyright.

A reverse search engine called TinEye is now able to ‘read’ the features of an image, then search the web to find where it has been used. By using TinEye, copyright owners can now track down most instances of where their images have been used illegally. The widget at the link above (and on the RHS of this blog) displays 97 different versions of the Mona Lisa, and shows how TinEye can even recognise parts of an image – meaning it can still track an image, even if it has been modified in some way.

Fast musical notes on a music sheetCreative Commons Logo Creative Commons Symbols

Fortunately, there are very generous people who have created copyright-friendly music for anyone to use and re-mix, and others who allow their images and photographs to be used or altered without restrictions.  Many of these can be found by doing an advanced search in Google, and selecting ‘Free to use or share / Free to use, share or modify’ under Usage Rights.

Using Google to  find CC images:

  • Go to Google Images, and click on Advanced Image Search.
  • Next to ‘Usage Rights’ click the drop down arrow.
  • Select: Labelled for reuse OR Labelled for reuse with modification.
  • The images you find will be fine to use, but you still need to acknowledge who created them and where you got them from.

Another way to find copyright-friendly images and music is to search the websites listed on the Creative Commons website,  remembering at the same time to check the terms of use. Many images which are free to use are mediocre in quality, or there are not enough good quality ones at each site, and this is where Creative Commons is good – it allows you to search a number of different websites in one search. is a good image search link to start with, because it shows 36 thumbnails at a time, which makes selection easier. With any image used, the owner must always be given credit.

Many sites offer images and music under a Royalty-Free agreement. This means that the images or music need to be purchased, but only one payment is ever made – after that you can use it as many times as you need to without having to pay more royalties. One of the best sites I have found for music is Incompetech. The site says it offers royalty-free music, but this is not enforced. A donation is suggested, but not enforced, and the students are able to use a huge range of music, based on genre or on feelings.  A good site for free sounds is A1 Free Sound Effects , which has free sound effects for weapons, sirens, vehicles, sport, weather, household, people and animal. I have contacted the owners, and all sounds are free to use and re-publish.

For a list of hundreds of websites offering free images, clipart, sounds and music, I have been making a Copyright Libguide using sites that many other students and teachers have come across or added to wikis: – click on Copyright & Creative Commons: Ethical Use of Resources

Finding good quality free images is a much slower process than searching through Google Images, but if our students want to re-publish their work, they either need to use free images and music, or contact owners for permission.  This is just part of learning to be an ethical and responsible digital citizen.

Delhi from a rickshaw image from Will Hybrid’s Flickr photostream
Russian military guard from  Wikimedia Commons 2009 Picture of the Year Competition
Music image from H Varian’s Flickr photostream
Creative Commons image from  M Porter’s Flickr photos