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Understanding copyright, licensing and attribution for photos and images
Understanding copyright, licensing and attribution for photos and images

A guide to making sure you only use images that are safe to use in Book Creator

Dan Kemp avatar
Written by Dan Kemp
Updated over a week ago

Finding good quality images to use in your Book Creator books is not always easy. Even if you find the right image, you have to be sure you’ve understood the licensing and attribution, or you could be breaking copyright law. In schools especially, we need to educate students (and teachers!) to be aware of proper methods to find images.

If you're daunted by this topic, you're not alone - but don't worry. There are two really great options in Book Creator that help you remain safe and within the law:

  1. Take your own photos with your device camera

  2. Use our safe built-in image search

Understanding the terminology

Anyone who takes a photo or creates their own original artwork, and posts it online, has the right to be acknowledged as the creator of that image. They automatically own the copyright for that photo, which means that legally, they have the right to decide where and how that image can be used.

So if you use an image that is copyrighted, you’re breaking the law. You need to get the author’s permission first.

Public Domain

Copyright does not necessarily last forever. Generally, the copyright for an image will last for the lifetime of the author, plus 70 years after their death. After that, if the copyright is not renewed, the image can become part of the ‘public domain’, and the copyright no longer applies.

Public domain images can be used freely in your books.

Creative Commons

The copyright holder of an image can choose to make their work available using a variety of Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Essentially, these allow photos to be re-used without handing over the full copyright.

But the author does get to decide how they want their work to be re-used – e.g. Can the photo be changed? Can it be used for commercial gain (for example in an advertising campaign)? Does the author need to be credited?

There are 6 types of CC license, which you can read more about on the Creative Commons website. The other type of license is the Public Domain one above (also known as CC0), where the author has waived their right to copyright.

It’s really important that you understand how Creative Commons licenses work if you want to source images from the web.

There is an excellent guide online called the Open Educational Resources Guide for Schools. The chapter on ‘Understanding Open Licensing’ is required reading!

And for the record, here’s how they want people to attribute that resource:

Credit / Attribution

Whenever you use an image that has a Creative Commons license, you have to credit the author. This is a “moral right” even outside copyright law. If you don’t want to credit the original creator of the image, you have to get permission from them first.

On the web, it’s usual to credit the photo and give a link back to the original, or to the author’s website. If the attribution includes a Creative Commons license requirement, you should link to that license too (each license has its own URL).

If you use Book Creator's in-built image search, you can automatically add attribution to the page.

Fair use

Sometimes referred to as “fair dealing”, this relates to using an image in such a way to illustrate a point. For fair use to apply, it must be used for non-profit or educational purposes. It’s still right to credit the author if you can, though.

As an example, look at the photos used on Wikipedia – most are listed as “fair use” (although it may not always be the case).

Stock photography

Stock photography refers to photographs that are published online with the purpose of being shared and used. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of stock photography websites online – it’s a very competitive business. These photos are often taken by professionals and can be purchased and used.

They range from expensive sites such as Getty Images, iStock, and Shutterstock, to sites where images can be used at no cost, such as Flickr Creative Commons, Pixabay, Photos for Class, Foter, Pics4Learning, and ClipSafari.


Royalty-free does not mean the photo will necessarily be free. But you can purchase a license to use the photo as you wish (there may be some restrictions). You’ll normally be allowed to use that photo unlimited times without having to pay again.

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