Copyright and the Public Domain

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13024

Have you ever wanted to download and use an image from the World Wide Web on a blog or website? If you have, you need to know about copyright laws. Explore more about what this important term means!


English / Language Arts, Practical Life Skills

Life Skills
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Suppose you decide to create your own website or blog. Maybe it's about baking or your favorite sport. Maybe it's about traveling throughout the United States or to another country.

  • Of course, you'll use your own writing on your blog or website, but what about the pictures?
  • If you don't have your own images, what can you do?

Fro a moment, imagine you decide to create a blog about baking and would like to add a photo of a chocolate cake.

The problem is, you don't have one!

You might be thinking that you'll just do a search for an image of a chocolate cake, download the first image that you see, then add it to your blog or website.

web search

However, if you do that, chances are that you will be violating copyright law. Yikes! Violating a copyright is basically a form of stealing, because you are using someone else's creative work, such as an image or artwork, without asking for their permission. Double Yikes!

So, take a moment to watch Copyright and Fair Use Animation, from Common Sense Education:


Fortunately, there are images on the Web that are perfectly acceptable for you to download and use on your blog. These images are called public domain images. If an image is in the public domain, it means the artist or photographer has released the image to the public, and you can use it without worrying about copyright infringement.

One way to find these types of images is to go to certain websites that provide a variety of images that are copyright-free. A few of these websites include:

These websites typically offer photographs, artwork, and even videos, that are completely in the public domain. However, you should still check the image's license before you decide to use it on your website or blog. The image's license describes how the image can be used and if it is public domain. To be extra-careful, it would be wise to read the site's Terms of Service (TOS) or Terms of Use (TOU) to make sure you are complying with their rules.

Sometimes, an image's license will indicate that it is "Free for Commercial Use. No Attribution Required." This means you are allowed to use the image even for commercial purposes, and it is in the public domain. "No Attribution Required" means you don't need to indicate from where you got the image. However, it is still good practice to cite where you got the image, even if the license says you don't need to.

An example of a citation for an image is displayed under the photograph of the chocolate cake below. Take a quick look.

chocolate cake

Image by congerdesign, via Pixabay, is in the public domain.

Most public domain images have a symbol that looks like the symbol below:

public domain

This symbol is usually part of the image's license and means that the owner of the image has released it into the public domain, and you are free to use it on your website or blog. The symbol ©, on the other hand, means the image has a copyright and is not in the public domain.

Now that you know more about copyright and the public domain, are you ready to try identifying some public domain images?

Then move on to the Got It? section.

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