Copyright and Your Classroom

When we think about teaching, intellectual property rights may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet staff in JHU Center for Educational Resources where I work, and my librarian colleagues, are not infrequently asked by teaching faculty to address concerns about copyright and fair use issues in the classroom.Copyright logo - black c within a black circle.

For example: “I am assigning my students to do an online exhibition, if they re-use images and videos taken from the web, can we make the exhibits public?” “It’s educational, so it’s fair use, right?” “I’ve created a library of video clips from popular television series to use in teaching. Is it ok to share these with my colleagues?” “How do I know if something is in the public domain?” “Why can’t the library just digitize their collection of film DVDs so we can stream them in our classrooms?”

Unfortunately, neither I nor my colleagues have law degrees with specialization in intellectual property rights (IPR). We are fortunate here at Johns Hopkins to have an Office of Legal Counsel with someone who is an IPR specialist, and there has been an effort to make policies and guidelines about common educational legal concerns easy to find and readily accessible. That’s not the case everywhere, and not all questions need an appointment with an attorney to answer. Sometimes you just need a quick answer to what is likely a common question… Fortunately there are resources to help you.

Last summer Duke University, in collaboration with Emory University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offered a MOOC, Copyright for Educators & Librarians. “Fear and uncertainty about copyright law often plagues educators and sometimes prevents creative teaching.  This course is a professional development opportunity designed to provide a basic introduction to US copyright law and to empower teachers and librarians at all grade levels.” I signed on and found it informative and engaging. So, I was excited to learn that the course is now being offered on demand.

The “…goal [of the course] is to provide participants with a practical framework for analyzing copyright issues that they encounter in their professional work. We use a lot of real life examples—some of them quite complex and amusing—to help participants get used to the systematic analysis of copyright problems. This course is intentionally a first step toward bridging the gulf that is often perceived between desirable educational practice and legal permissible activities.”

The instructors, Kevin Smith, MLS, JD, Director, Copyright and Scholarly Communication Duke University Libraries; Lisa A. Macklin, JD, MLS, Director, Scholarly Communications Office, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University; and Anne Gilliland, JD, MLS, Scholarly Communications Officer University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill bring knowledge and enthusiasm to the course modules, which are framed as discussions. Now that the course is offered on demand, you can sign up and take it as your schedule allows. There are five units, which cover an introduction to copyright law, a framework for thinking about copyright, owning rights, specific exemptions for teachers and librarians, and understanding and using fair use.

For those of you who need just in time assistance, I can recommend the very thorough LibGuide on Copyright, put together by our JHU librarians. There is a section specifically for Teaching Faculty, with information on the TEACH Act, Fair Use Teaching Tools, guidelines for the use of copyrighted materials within course management software, and more. Additional resources include a discussion of European Copyright law, and links to other university IPR guides and pages. The Copyright Crash Course website at the University of Texas at Austin Libraries is particularly useful.

Ignorance of the law is not a defense in IPR matters. These resources will help you to get a better grasp of the issues that should be of concern to you in the classroom.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source:

Teaching with Images

Today’s students are surrounded by visual media in their everyday lives.  With their heavy use of the Internet, they are accustomed to accessing information in both textual and visual forms. The use of images in the classroom is a pedagogical strategy aimed at engaging students who have grown up in a media-rich environment. Digital technology has made images more readily available and easier to incorporate into teaching and learning materials.

Collage of images representing botany, biology, art, maps, geology, space.While teaching with images has been at the core of disciplines like art history for decades, all courses can benefit from the use of visual materials in class lectures, assignments, exercises, and resources. Images can be an effective way of presenting abstract concepts or groups of data. Instructors have reported that their use of images in the classroom has led to increased student interactivity and discussion. Teaching with images can also help develop students’ visual literacy skills, which contributes to their overall critical thinking skills and lifelong learning.

Finding images
While a Google Image Search, which draws from the many images available on the Web, can be useful for finding a specific or obscure image, there are problems associated with this method. Google retrieves images based on the text appearing nearby or on the image file names, often resulting in hundreds of unrelated results that have nothing to do with your subject. In addition, images posted to the Web may have incomplete or incorrect data attached and may have rights restrictions. Finally, the images found by Google are often of insufficient resolution for classroom projection or printing.

High quality images can be found through the Johns Hopkins Libraries, which provide access to a number of specialized image resources.  These databases provide downloadable, high-resolution images, include reliable information about the images, and allow advanced search capabilities. The resources include:

  • ARTstor, a database of over one million images in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.                                                            
  • Digital Image Database at JHU (DID@JHU) provides JHU faculty and students with access to thousands of images in a variety of subjects.   You can also request to add images for specific courses to the database.                       
  • Accunet/AP Multimedia Archive, a database of images, audio files and texts from 160 years of news and world events.
  • There are thousands of free, public domain images available through the U.S. government, easily searchable at the website.                          
  • The Image Research Guide contains search tips, information about copyright and publications, and subject-specific web recommendations.                              
  • The CER has a list of websites containing freely available images and multimedia for educational use

Copyright & Permissions
While technology has made it easier than ever to download, manipulate, and re-publish images, it has also made it easier to inadvertently violate the copyrights associated with them.  The use of copyrighted images for educational purposes is allowed under the Fair Use exemptions to the US Copyright Act.  As there are several factors to take into account when determining whether your use of an image may be considered a fair use, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these criteria.  Many image databases and websites will stipulate the extent to which educational use of their materials is permitted.

There are resources available online to help guide you in determining whether your use qualifies under the Fair Use exemptions.

In addition, there are some best practices to follow to facilitate the legal and ethical use of images. These include:

  • Restrict online access to images to class members only.  Post images to a password-protected website or space, such as Blackboard, or in a shared folder in ARTstor or the Digital Image Database (DID@JHU).  If you’re not sure how to do this, consult your Research Services Librarian or a CER staff member.
  • If you are posting or publishing images to a forum that is open to members of the public, use public domain or Creative Commons-licensed images.

Uses of Images
Images will be more effective in the classroom if they are meaningfully integrated into course curricula.  Think of ways images can support the delivery of content, illustrate class themes, serve as primary research materials, or be built into assignments.

If you would like to learn more about integrating visual materials into your teaching, contact Macie Hall, Instructional Designer, CER: The following are additional resources on how to use images in the curriculum:

Some ways you can introduce images into your course materials:

  • Presentations in PowerPoint, Keynote, the ARTstor Offline Viewer, or the DID@JHU image viewer
  • Blackboard resources
  • Other learning tools, such as the CER’s Timeline Creator or Interactive Map Tool
  • Primary source materials: photographs as historic documents, maps to inform urban planning and site architecture, diagrams and technical drawings to show the evolution of bridge design, or medical images to practice diagnosis
  • Class assignments: images can be powerful as illustrations, didactic materials, or stimulating starting points for structured writing exercises

Adrienne Lai, Emerging Technologies Services Librarian, North Carolina State University Libraries

Ms. Lai was the 2008/9 Art Libraries Society of North America Intern and did her internship at Sheridan Libraries and Department of the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University. She wrote the original Innovative Instructor print series article, Teaching with Images, adapted for this blog post. She completed Master’s Degrees in Library Studies and Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada and holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of California, Irvine. She came to the library profession from several years of teaching art, art history, and cultural and media studies at art colleges in Canada and the US, and is interested in the possibilities of collaborative instructional efforts between libraries, faculty, and technology.

Image Source: Images in the collage were obtained from Photos and Images and include images from NASA, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and National Agricultural Library, ARS, USDA.