Creative Commons vs Free Use for Education

I was discussing Creative Commons with an older teacher and he said that it is a waste of time because teachers and students can use any images they want as long as it is for educational purposes. He sited a Supreme Court ruling. Is this correct? I cannot find anything online about teaching CC vs Free Use for Educational purposes.

@jilliovino Hey Jill,

What your colleague says is sort of true, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. I had heard that before and when I researched it, I found out that there is a fair use law, but that depending on what kind of project students do, it’s not just an exemption for any teaching purpose and to be honest, there are more restrictions on the “fair use” exemption to copyright than there are with Creative Commons. Here’s a link to a site with a 5 part explanation (already longer than I wanted to read … lol).

Part 4 spells out “some” of the restrictions, including the limits on use of photographs, how many from a specific creator, how many total, how long the project is allowed to exist, how many copies of the project can be made, etc., etc.

Because I didn’t want to deal with that at all, I stick to Creative commons and/or sites where I know the license is simple and where I can easily explain it to my students and teach them how to do it the right way. For example, and are both sites where photos and graphics can be downloaded and where there is a license for any content from those sites to be used in a much less restrictive manner… For example, here’s a copy of the license from and pixabay’s is similar.

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

Of course, these sites may be blocked in some schools and districts, so creative commons is my 2nd choice as it is sometimes easier to find images that aren’t blocked.

Hope this helps. One thing for sure is that there are likely thousands of teachers and hundreds of thousands of students who violate the fair use clause of the copyright and never get caught or prosecuted, but I choose to teach my students what I deem the best way to do things and I think there are adequate resources out there to do that in an easy enough way.


Thank you, Mike. This is very helpful and I will share it with the teacher. I like that makes students aware of using others’ images. Without overdoing it, I would like to see students learn to cite and give credit where it is due.

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