Ethical Use of Materials: how and when to cite online and print resources

IEARN project work encourages students to share information as they collaborate. This often requires research online or in school libraries. The World Wide Web has made it increasingly easy for students to share with others by copying and pasting. This information may come in the form of pictures, graphs, text, and videos. It is important to understand that all material online and in print belongs to someone.  The rights of these individuals are protected under copyright laws in many countries.  Once something is printed or published it is automatically copyrighted without any formal procedure. There are guidelines that help students and teachers use material with others for education purposes.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy

This document is a code of best practices that helps educators using media literacy concepts and techniques to interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use. Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances—especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant. It is a general right that applies even in situations where the law provides no specific authorization for the use in question—as it does for certain narrowly defined classroom activities.

This guide identifies five principles that represent the media literacy education community’s current consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials, wherever and however it occurs: in K–12 education, in higher education, in nonprofit organizations that offer programs for children and youth, and in adult education.

The Five Principals:

  • Under fair use, educators using the concepts and techniques of medialiteracy can choose illustrative material from the full range of copyrighted sources and make them available to learners, in class, in workshops, in informal mentoring and teaching settings, and on school-related Web sites.   
  • Under fair use, educators using the concepts and techniques of media literacy can integrate copyrighted material into curriculum materials, including books, workbooks, podcasts, DVD compilations, videos, Web sites, and other materials designed for learning.   
  • Educators using concepts and techniques of media literacy should be able to share effective examples of teaching about media and meaning with one another, including lessons and resource materials. If curriculum developers are making sound decisions on fair use when they create their materials, then their work should be able to be seen, used, and even purchased by anyone—since fair use applies to commercial materials as well as those produced outside the marketplace model.     
  • Because media literacy education cannot thrive unless learners themselves have the opportunity to learn about how media functions at the most practical level, educators using concepts and techniques of media literacy should be free to enable learners to incorporate, modify, and re-present existing media objects in their own classroom work. Media production can foster and deepen awareness of the constructed nature of all media, one of the key concepts of media literacy. The basis for fair use here is embedded in good pedagogy.
  • Educators should work with learners to make a reasoned decision about distribution that reflects sound pedagogy and ethical values. In some cases, widespread distribution of students’ work (via the Internet, for example) is appropriate. If student work that incorporates, modifies, and re-presents existing media content meets the transformativeness standard, it can be distributed to wide audiences under the doctrine of fair use. 

- From

Fair Use Guidelines

Note:  These are only guidelines not law.

"Fair use is a legal principle that defines the limitations on the exclusive rights** of copyright holders. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide guidance on the application of fair use principles by educators, scholars and students who develop multimedia projects using portions of copyrighted works under fair use rather than by seeking authorization for non-commercial educational uses. These guidelines apply only to fair use in the context of copyright and to no other rights."
- From "Fair Use Guidelines For Educational Multimedia*." Fair Use Guidelines For Educational Multimedia*. July 17, 1996. University of Texas System. 20 Sep. 2006 .

Helpful pages for creating citations of works used

Landmark Project Citation Machine

Additional Sources of Information for Copyright and Ethics

The Media Education Lab of the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University has the following resources and others at

  • Lesson Plans:  Teaching about Copyright and Fair Use
  • Document the Fair-Use Reasoning Process
  • Intro Video: Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education
  • Music Video: Copyright? What's Copyright?
  • Music Video: Users' Rights, Section 107

The United States Copyright web site includes law and policy and also information on searching copyright records, how to register a work, licensing, and more.
Copyright and Fair Use Podcasts by Professor Kenneth Crews
Center for Social Media at American University Fair Use resources
Electric Frontier Foundation - lesson plans for exploring piracy, file sharing and fair use.
A student and teachers Infomation Code of Ethics (.doc) - David Warlick in his book “Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century” has created a Students’ and Teachers’ Information Code of Ethics.  This points to four areas of concern, and lists proactive considerations that students and teachers should apply to every information decision that they make.  It can be found at:
Teacher permission template for harvesting material from the Internet
  Welcome to Copyright Kids

Youtube Copyright School - video and quiz 

Websites with Free Photos and Music

(Please read Terms of Use or Copyright Statements before downloading content)


Public Domain Pictures
Flickr Creative Commons


Free PD
Freeplay Music
Internet Archive: Community Audio
Podsafe Audio

Copyright-friendly Images and Sounds:

Copyright Friendly and Copyleft Images and Sound (Mostly!)
Creative Commons
Wiki Commons
opyright Free and Public Domain Media Sources