Tag Archives: photography

free as a bird

How freely should you share your work?

free as a birdI’ve been thinking about creativity and licensing this weekend. It all comes from making a video.

The Project

I made a short promo for the upcoming Learning 2.014 conference to show in a faculty meeting about all the great presenters we had lined up. It was fun and lively and I figured that I should publish it publicly. And that’s when the issue of copyright reared its ugly head.

I had to dump the music I’d used – it was perfect, but commercial. (I gave credit in the video – fine in a closed meeting, but no good for publicly sharing.) I surfed over to Jamendo and in ten minutes found a great replacement. (Check out Rafiqi’s music – it’s terrific!) With a Creative Commons license, I had permission to use and share. Rafiqi had licensed their song with a share alike (CC-BY-SA) license. So I’d have to publish my video with that license. No problem …I thought.


I realised that the photos from last year’s conference that started the video were mostly licensed with a non-commercial sharealike (CC-BY-NC-SA) license. That was in conflict with CC-BY-SA.

For a moment I thought I’d just live with that. The photographers wouldn’t mind. I wasn’t making a commercial video & I was using the photos in a way they’d approve. But it really wasn’t the right thing to do. The licenses were chosen for a reason by the creators of the work. It really isn’t up to me to guess their intentions. I could write to the photographers and ask for a release …but that’s what CC licenses are meant to avoid.

So I headed to Flickr to find other photos. Sorry, Jeff and Kim: Your photos are nice, but your licenses are too restrictive. Fortunately, Brian and Thomas (and I) use a simple CC-BY license. So I could use their photos with a simple attribution, and no conflict with the CC-BY-SA license of the music. Problem solved. I added the new photos, tidied up the video and published on YouTube. Voila!

Why choose a particular license?

What were the reasons for the choices these artists made for licensing their work? The musicians chose a license that allowed me to sell my video as long as I also published it with a CC-BY-SA license. The photographers didn’t want me to sell my video. They also wanted me to share in the same way. Why the different choices? What’s the right way to choose?

Now, I don’t want to guess at the other photographers’ thinking so I’ll go through my own. I am a teacher. I take photographs. Some of them are good, most are just ordinary. I’m never going to sell my work. If someone else likes one of my photos and wants to sell something using it, good for them. They’re more entrepreneurial than I am. If I get credit, then that’s enough for me.

This is especially true when I’m doing something like taking photos at a conference. I am never ever going to sell or commercially publish one of those photos. And the chances that someone else will is very small.

So I use the CC-BY license. Go ahead and use my work, just give me credit.

And it seems to me that this is the right path for most of us. As teachers, we constantly borrow and share. (And some of us are lazy and don’t think too much about copyright or attribution – I’ve written about that before.) We should make sure that others can borrow and can share our own work.

That’s the idea behind “Free Cultural Works” – things that are put out in the open and available to all. As teachers, we want to promote this – to make sure that there are photos and writings and music and such in the digital commons that all of us – teachers and students and all – can access, use, remix, etc. We want this for ourselves. We want this for our students. We have to help in building it by creating and contributing.

I don’t propose that this be a hard rule. That would be unreasonable especially for teachers who are also professional or pro-am creators. Poets like Bob or photographers like Dave are definitely entitled to protect their creations as much as they like. However, all of us – including the pro creators – can and should choose our licenses with care. If we can publish more freely, then we should. If I’m particularly proud of a photo, then I’m entitled to license it more restrictively. But the more I can make things available for others, the more I’m contributing and helping others create.

To paraphrase Einstein:

Everything should be published as freely as possible, but no freer.

Seeing is stealing

photo by me – go ahead and take it!

A colleague asked me to find out about a photograph she found on the internet. It was a photo of the word “teach” spelled out in blocks, with a wooden heart pendant inserted into the word. (Think “teaching with heart.”) She liked the photo and wanted to know if she could use it.

I did an image search for the photo (Google’s image search was more useful than TinEye in this case) and found a number of sites that were using the image. Most of them had it unattributed, but one cited the photographer and the source of the image.

The photograph is on Flickr: it’s a photograph by Susana (susivinh), who has a large collection of excellent photographs. The “teach” photograph is licensed by Getty Images – you can use it, but you have to pay for it.

I wrote to Susana – she was very happy to answer my questions about the photo. She can’t override the Getty license, but she’s made a lot of her other photos available with a CC-BY-ND license. (Do check them out – they’re beautiful.) She’s a little disappointed that people are using her work without permission and without license. (She told me that nobody has paid to license that image.)

The funny sad thing is that Susana’s photo is used by a number of teachers as part of their blog/portfolio …and they’re violating the photo’s licensing terms. They’ve stolen it.

Teachers: we have to set an example for our students. Every school has an “Academic Honesty” policy …it needs to apply to teachers as well as students. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our students to do the right thing. There are plenty of sources of freely licensed material (I’ve written about some before) – teachers should seek those out and use them.

Any beautiful photograph you find on the web was created by a human being. Even if she is not a professional photographer, she bought her camera and lenses, and she has spent time in thinking up and composing the photograph. If you want to use it, you owe it to her to at least get her permission if not pay her for her time and creativity.

(The photo on this post was taken by me. Go ahead and steal it. You have my permission.)

A picture is worth 1000 words – even if it’s free

Today I read an article about the importance of using images in a classroom. I also have been doing some work with various teachers on finding Creative Commons-licensed work for reuse. As this is Open Education Week, I thought it timely to post something about a few tools I use and find helpful.

Note: I’ve also seen a list of tips that stresses that students should be creating their own images instead of using others. I agree completely – and am working on some photography lessons for students and teachers (not by me!), but it’s still important to find others’ work.

So, here are three tools that I find useful for finding pictures that can be reused (plus a couple of extras):

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons allows you to search a variety of sources of images (Flickr, Europeana, Fotopedia, Google images, etc.) as well as search repositories of music and other media.


This search engine allows you to search through Flickr‘s images, including choosing Creative Commons licenses. The very useful thing about this search engine is that it gives you quick access to downloading the image and a copy & pasteable HTML snippet to insert an image and give credit.

Here’s an example of pasted credit (copied from above): Photo Credit: babasteve via Compfight cc


Pixabay has a large and growing database of beautiful photographs in the public domain.

CC0All images are licensed CC0 – the Creative Commons public domain license.

Here are a few other sites I regularly use:

  • Wikimedia Commons – searchable through Creative Commons’ Search (above), but well worth listing as a source of photos and more
  • Open Clip Art – not photographs, but vector clip art, all licensed CC0