5 Ways to Avoid Copyright Infringement In Your School

“Copyright trolling” is the phenomenon in which individuals or companies use aggressive tactics – and often litigation – to enforce copyrights solely for the purpose of making money. As these trolls comb the Internet looking for cases to pursue, schools are increasingly becoming targets. Copyright trolls have spearheaded copyright infringement cases against schools that use media improperly on their websites, in marketing, and in-classroom resources. Although the infractions are often innocent, the cost to districts and schools can be significant. 

While most of us know it’s against the law to photocopy and distribute the pages of a textbook, it can be trickier to avoid unintentional copyright infringement when it comes to electronic media. Something as simple as sharing an image from a free photo-sharing website in a classroom assignment can result in a copyright claim.  

Take the guesswork out of selecting and using media in your classrooms and schools. We’ve identified five steps you can take today to avoid potentially costly claims of copyright infringement. Before your next website update, school social media post, or classroom presentation, make sure you take these steps. 

1. Find The Image Terms Of Use

When using an image from a website, check the site’s terms-of-use page. Every image, every time. Skipping this step leaves your school or district at risk for a legal claim. Links to terms of use are typically found at the bottom of a website’s home page. If you don’t see them there, search under “terms and conditions,” “terms of use,” “licensing information,” “copyright,” “permissions,” “privacy policy,” or “image licensing” or under FAQs. 

If you still can’t find the information you need to clarify terms of use, try searching the name of the source and one of the above terms. When in doubt, contact the source to confirm use of images. 

Even when using free photo-sharing sites, approach each image with caution. Educators should also be sure to check an image search engine to ensure that the photo in use was not pirated – thus infringing on someone else’s copyright.

2. Exercise Public Domain Caution 

It’s easy to assume that when a photo is in the public domain, educators are in the clear. Even if the photo is out of copyright, make sure the source allows use of its copy of the file at no charge. For example, a photo agency such as Getty Images has thousands of public domain photos on its website but charges a fee to publishers to use its copy. 

3. Leverage a Rights-Cleared Database 

Using a rights-cleared database like Britannica Digital Learning’s ImageQuest® for educational use empowers schools with a diverse asset library for media makers of all ages. Districts around the country use ImageQuest’s 3 million rights-cleared images in their school websites, newsletters, newspapers, flyers, and bulletins while staying safe against copyright infringement claims. 

Britannica ImageQuest provides schools with thousands of trusted images that have been sourced and cleared for school usage. With a classroom-focused database of curated photos, illustrations, and clip art from more than 60 leading collections, as well as well-known media sources like Getty Images and the Natural History Museum, ImageQuest is an invaluable resource for lesson plans, classroom activities, and student projects. 

4. Review Terms of Use

Do your school’s teachers know the difference between commercial and non-commercial use? Unfortunately, a photo can start out being used appropriately and end up putting the district at risk. For example, a teacher may use an image as part of a classroom lesson. That’s non-commercial – also known as “editorial” – use. But let’s say the school reproduces the image on mugs and t-shirts to raise funds for after-school programs. That becomes commercial use and would likely violate terms of use. 

Taking the extra step of reviewing and verifying every use of an image may feel like an annoying extra step, but it could mean the difference between safe use and an expensive legal battle. 

5. Use Proper Crediting 

When using an image, giving credit to the copyright holder is essential. This credit usually appears under or alongside the image. It’s always worth an extra look at how the image creator wishes to be credited. Again, when in doubt, search the source name along with words like “credit” or “acknowledgment.” 

As technology makes it easier to share information with our students and families, the uncomfortable reality is that this innovation leaves schools and districts open to copyright trolls.

For more information, including image-use Dos and Don’ts, click here to download Britannica ImageQuest’s Guide to Avoiding Copyright Infringement Claims.

Learn more about Britannica ImageQuest



Julee Schuster

Britannica Education

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