Keeping within the law with regard to copyright is easy if you remember two things:

1)  Putting something online is publishing, just like broadcasting it on TV or printing it into a textbook.  The fact that it is being used for educational purposes does not change this.  When you put something online, you have made it available to literally every person on planet Earth who has Internet access of any kind.

2)  A person who puts something online surrenders none of his or her intellectual property rights.  In other words, unless the image or page specifically states otherwise, everything on the Internet is still under copyright, and using it without the creator’s permission is illegal and opens you up to civil litigation.

In practice, this means you can’t just go online and “Google” or “Bing” some images, then put them up on your blog, website, or e-portfolio, assuming that since they were online, they’re free.  That’s like assuming that CBS could start showing House, MD or American Idol without getting permission from FOX, because “it was broadcast for free, so it must be free for anyone to use.”  Copyright law does not work that way.

To use digital images for your blog, website, e-portfolio, you must do one of these things:

1)     take the pictures yourself;

2)     get permission ahead of time, in writing, from the copyright holder;

3)     find public domain or creative commons images.

Again, because your e-portfolio is designed to showcase your work, you should be using original images of your own artwork, activities or products, not images downloaded from the Internet.

Finding Legal Images

If you legitimately need to download images for your e-portfolio, you must obey copyright laws.  The easiest way to do this is to use Public domain and Creative Commons images.  The easiest way is to go to a free images site like Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org ) and search for images there.  You can find other, similar sites by searching for “public domain images” in a search engine (like Google or Bing).

Public Domain:

Public domain media are free for anyone to use, without permission or attribution.  Essentially, nobody holds copyright on these images, books, etc.  The vast majority of media out there on the Internet is not in the public domain, and you should assume that everything you find is under copyright unless it is specifically listed as public domain.

Creative Commons:

Creative Commons images are free to use without prior permission, as long as certain rules are followed.  These rules will be specified where the image is found, but the one that will apply to your Student e-Portfolio is attribution, or giving credit on your web page to the creator of the image.  If you follow those rules, you may use a Creative Commons image for free, without asking permission first.  If you disregard those rules, you are in violation of copyright law, and you’re also being rude to someone who created an image and put it out there for free public use, and only wanted some basic recognition and respect in return.

For More Information:

Copyright law is fairly complicated, but you can keep your e-portfolio legal and relevant by using your own images.  If you want more information, The University of Florida Library system hosts a detailed, user-friendly guide here: http://guides.uflib.ufl.edu/copyright.  The “Copyright Basics” tab may be the most useful.