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

Downloading and Converting Videos

Have you ever done a presentation where you have an embedded link in a PPT to a YouTube video, you click to play the video, then you have trouble getting back to your PPT?  Or have you found the perfect video to show for a lesson, only to find that the network can’t connect when you want to show it, or the video won’t play?

 What you need is to actually download the video, then embed it into your PPT.  This is not all that straightforward however, especially when some videos are particularly large in size, so you need to compress the video or reduce its size before using it.  Click here for Mashable’s list of 23  different ways to download YouTube videos – just check first the copyright details on the videos before you download them.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found for downloading videos is to use ZAMZAR, an online file conversion site, free for files up to 100MB. Not only will it convert video files for you, but also music files, images and documents.   Watch a video from the Zamzar website showing some of their great features.  I usually choose to convert  videos to avi format, but all of the following formats are avaialbale:

Output formats: 3gp, 3g2, avi, gvi, iphone, ipod, wmv,  flv, mov, m4v, mp4, mpg,  ogg, rm, rmvb, vob


If, on the other hand, you don’t want to use an online conversion site, you can download Any Video Converter, a free open source software program, and convert your videos using that instead:

“Any Video Converter Freeware- the Free Video Converter – is the most renowned free video converter for converting video files between various formats, with fast converting speed and excellent video quality. This powerful free video converter application makes video conversion quick and easy.

This FREE video converter software can clip any segments and optionally merge and sort them to make a creative movie. And even more, Any Video Converter Freeware can crop frame size to remove any unwanted area in the frame just like a pair of smart scissors.” (from the website)

Input formats:  avi, asf, mov, rm, rmvb, flv, mkv, mpg, 3gp, m4v, vob, YouTube videos


Output formats:  avi, mp4, wmv, swf, flv, mkv, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, mpg (PAL or NTSC), mp3, wma, ogg, aac, wave, m4a

Main screen of Any Video Converter Freeware



SparkleBox2 “provides high-quality downloadable resources to enhance your teaching, classroom displays and school environment.  All of the resources can be downloaded completely FREE!”

All you need is a colour printer and a laminator to create professional-looking signs, banners, flashcards and games, or you can download them and add them to your webpages, PPT presentations or IWB programs.

Join this site or Twitter it to keep up with the latest news on resources which have been added, or upload and share your own resources on the site. Subscribe to the blog, or add comments , questions and answers.

Also check out SparkleBox, the original site with resources for younger children.

SparkleBox 2

SparkleBox 2



Free Banner Maker

If you’re looking to create different titles and banners, you’ll have heaps of fun with this easy-to-use site where you or your students can make horizontal or vertical banners or buttons for your web pages, PowerPoint presentations, digital scrapbooks etc.

There is an impressive number of different fonts to choose from, and you can use single or double colours as backgrounds or even upload an image for your background (this doesn’t work well for a wide banner however). 


DailyLit: Read Books by Email or RSS

DailyLit is a site where busy people can sign up to receive short installments of books via email or RSS feed.  Many of these titles cost money (generally $5-$10), however over 800 titles are completely free!  It’s worth having a look at the site if you don’t have time to sit down and read a book, but have time to read a short 3-5 minute excerpt as you check your email. You can also join the online community and contribute to the forum discussions, as well as adding your own ratings and reviews.

According to the site creators, “We got the idea for DailyLit after the New York Times serialized a few classic works in special supplements a few summers ago. We wound up reading books that we had always meant to simply by virtue of making them part of our daily routine of reading the newspaper. The only thing we do more consistenly than read the paper is read email. Bingo! We put together a first version and began reading “War of the Worlds” and “Pride and Prejudice“. We showed it to friends, added more books and features at their request, and presto, DailyLit was born.”

“You can read your installments wherever you receive e-mail/RSS feeds, including on your Blackberry and iPhone. Installments arrive in your Inbox according to the schedule you set (e.g. 7:00am every weekday). You can read each installment in under 5 minutes (most folks finish in 2-3 minutes), and, if you have more time to read, you can receive additional installments immediately on demand. Our titles include bestselling and award winning titles, from literary fiction and romance to language learning and science fiction.”

If this type of reading doesn’t appeal to you, but you know someone who would appreciate it, you can even give them a gift subscription where each installment arrives at a selected time each day along with a personalized message from you.

BookCrossing – Make the Whole World a Library!


If you want an exciting way to interest your students in reading, then try encouraging them to give books a ‘wild’ adventure with BookCrossing.  Over 700,000 people in 130 different countries have helped to create this ‘travelling library’, where you can tag and release books or go hunting for them around the world.  Over 5,000,000 books have been registerd so far, and 300 new members are added each day!

 How does it work?

Set up an account at, register each book to create a unique BookCrossing ID number for it, enter details about where you plan to release it, add some stickers, then let it go!! Hopefully someone will pick up the book, read it, add a comment to the web journal, then release it again back into ‘the wild’.  You will receive an email to alert you whenever someone adds a journal comment to one of your books, and in this way you can track where your books have travelled around the world.

At Redlands College I ask anyone travelling overseas or interstate if they would like to take a book and release it somewhere. So far this year we have released over 40 books around the world, and they have been picked up in London, Glasgow, Barcelona, Ontario, British Columbia and Bribie Island.

BookCrossing Store

A BookCrossing account is free, and if you are a teacher or librarian you can even get a free starter kit. If you would like to set your library or classroom up as a Crossing Zone, take a look at this link: 

I go to Scholastic warehouse sales and buy boxes of books for $1/book, and I let the students select which book they would like to take and release. I buy stickers, bookplates and release bags from the BookCrossing Store:, and I also glue labels onto the books which other BookCrossers have made up.  ( , also try typing ‘BookCrossing labels’ into Google)

One of these books is off to Germany

One of these books is off to Germany


From the BookCrossing website:   “BookCrossers give life to books. A book registered on BookCrossing is ready for adventure. Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym — anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel. Track the book’s journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person.”

Below are some of the comments that people have left on Redlands College book journals:

“I was waiting for my flight back to Canada and found the book in Barcelona Airport Terminal B, June 28, 2008. I thought someone had forgotten it but when I moved it to another seat I turned it over and the bag said free book so with some hesitation and doubt I opened the bag and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not a hoax and hence brought the book home to London Ontario. I have now read the book and enjoyed it very much.”

“Caught the book in a bar in Glasgow. Traveled across Europe with me and back home to New York!”

“My parents discovered this book during the London leg of their trip to Germany. We were all impressed and amazed at where it was found as my sister and I are ex-Redlands College students. Its amazing the things you find when you leave home!”

“I found this book at the Vancouver International Airport. I was on my way home to Prince Rupert, BC (from Prince George, BC) and was waiting for my flight. I have never heard of this so I was interested…. I think this is a wonderful idea and am a life-time book lover myself. What a great adventure for both the child and the book!”

Some of our books that have been released
Some of our books that have been released       

Here’s a link to someone’s BookShelf that was posted on a forum. As you can see, he is a serious BookCrosser!!