Tips for finding images online that you can use in your documents

With billions of images and other resources available with just a few clicks of your finger, it can be very difficult to use only those images that are licensed in such a way that allows you to use them in class and, for some my readers, for commercial use. It is difficult in two respects: first, sorting out images that are in the public domain from those that are not; and second, not giving in to the temptation to use copyrighted images anyway. Copyright law is simple in some ways but infinitely complex in others. It seems that I am daily finding out a new way that I have been violating it in some small–or not small way–because of a lack of knowledge or oversight. Even when you know the law, you sometimes don’t make the connection to how it applies to something that you are doing. (If you are aware of a way in which I have violated copyright, please gently correct me by emailing me at and explaining the concern.)

I had a long discussion with my two of my way-too-intelligent brothers while we were in NY for the holidays about copyright law (since they are experts on the history of, well, everything), and it was very interesting. According to my brother Ben, the laws were originally created to allow creators to recoup their original investment, and that’s it. Copyrights were fairly limited in time period so that the works would be released into the public domain in a timely manner, able to benefit everyone and progress whatever field to which they pertained. Now, however, many works are copyrighted essentially forever (ex: Walt Disney creations) as they are attributed to corporations instead of people, who are mortal. This is part of the reason that Creative Commons licensing was developed. Creative Commons licenses are a newer way to protect your work. They are great because they offer many different options, allowing you to choose how you want people to use and share your work. See the different kinds of CC licenses by selecting different question response combinations on the CC Licenses page.

I say all this because, as teachers, it is important that we have at least a basic understanding of copyright. First and foremost, it is important because there are very severe legal consequences both for you and your school district when a copyright infringement is discovered. “Educational use” and “fair use” do not apply in many circumstances. For example, you may not buy one copy of a novel and photocopy it for your entire class to read. You may not find a worksheet from a workbook on Pinterest that has a copyright line at the bottom and print it out for your classes to use. You cannot upload copyrighted works to the Internet for your students to access online (this goes for things like audio recordings of you reading aloud entire chapters of copyrighted texts). You may not keep a digital copy of a text purchased by a school when you move to a new district (if you personally purchased it, then you may). If you sell any of your materials, the laws become even more restrictive. In addition to the legal consequences, however, we are also models for our students, and it is important that we teach them to honor the laws of the land even when we are frustrated by them. At its core, it’s submission to authority–a skill that is essential to holding a job and living peacefully.

Anyway, all of that is to say that I would encourage you to read up on copyright law for yourself. Now, back to the original purpose of the post…

Here are my five favorite free online sources for images  that are almost always able to be added to any documents that you create for your students or to sell on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers


This is an image of the mosque in Cordoba, Spain that I found on Wikimedia Commons.  This photo was taken by Timor Espallargas on 29 December 2004 and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
This is an image of the mosque in Cordoba, Spain that I found on Wikimedia Commons.
This photo was taken by Timor Espallargas on 29 December 2004 and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Wikimedia Commons: Almost all of the images in Wikimedia Commons are able to be used for commercial purposes. You still should read through the individual licenses of each image to be sure–because there are exceptions–but most of them are fine.

Flickr: Since I sell many of the files that I create, I only search for images that allow commercial use. To do this, I have a little shortcut: I enter a search term and view the results. Then, I add on this chunk of text to the right of the URL of the search results page: &l=comm&ct=0&mt=all&adv=1 and refresh the page. This is the search code that filters out anything that does not have a commercial use license. If you don’t care about commercial usage, you can go to “Advanced Search Options” to choose the licensing that you need. (Note: I think that you must be signed in to do all of this.)

ClipArtLord: As always, read the descriptions of an image before you use it to guarantee that you have the right. Most of the images are in the public domain.

Clickr: Check the terms of use, but these clip art images are almost entirely in the public domain.

Clipartsfree: More public domain clip art.



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