The common misuse of Google images

Reusing images from the web is one of the most common misuses of the internet, for adults and children alike. Most people don’t realise that the majority of online images are subject to copyright. Many people will just take images without permission, most commonly from a Google image search.

Most people don't realise that the majority of online images are subject to copyright. Click To Tweet

Understanding the rules and being able to find free images are key parts of being a digital citizen. Yet, too many children are unaware because their teachers and parents are also unaware. Do you take images from the internet for your blog posts, presentations or worksheets? The good news is that you still can, but not so haphazardly. Here are four ways to find images that you can reuse legally and honestly. As well as adopting these strategies ourselves, we also need to educate our students.

  • Use filters

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Google provides filters for ‘Usage rights’ within Google Images. Click ‘Tools’ and then ‘Usage rights’ to see the options (other search engines often have similar filters, but the wording might be different). Unfortunately, these options will usually hide the best, most appropriate images (the ones that are not licensed for reuse). Even if you are still able to find an ideal image, you should try to find the exact terms of the license. The owner might require you to provide a link or credit, for example. This information can usually be found on the original web page (see example below). If in doubt, don’t use it.

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On phones and tablets, these filters are harder to find. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, click ‘Settings’ and then ‘Advanced Search’. You’ll find the filter options in there.

  • Use the Explore tab

An easier way to access filtered images is to use the Explore tab within Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets. When you search for images within Explore, all images are “labelled for commercial use with modification”. As mentioned above, users are still encouraged to visit the original web pages to find the exact conditions. To open Explore, go to ‘Tools’.

Thanks to @Cukalu for sharing this tip.

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  • Copyright-free image sites

Several websites are available to provide free images. At Pixabay, for example, all photographs are shared under Creative Commons CC0, meaning that they can be reused, modified and redistributed even without having to ask for permission or give credit. They can even be used for commercial purposes. Unsplash is another popular site with the same terms. Oftentimes, it can still be somewhat difficult to find what you’re looking for (compared to unfiltered Google), but the advantage is peace of mind. All images on these sites are freely available without the need for license filters. Another advantage of these sites is that the contributions must be approved before they are published. For that reason, only quality images appear in the search results.

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Although it’s entirely optional, you can thank the contributors on Pixabay for their images by clicking ‘coffee’. You can transfer a small amount of money to say thank you. To give back in another way, consider contributing some images yourself. I’m no photographer, but I have started to share some of my travel snaps in case they are useful to others. Click here to see my Pixabay page (although it’s still in its infancy). To be honest, I’m less familiar with Unsplash and other similar sites. If you have any useful information about these, please leave a comment below.

  • Use your own images

Ask yourself, do you always need to find images from other people? Consider taking your own when possible. Expensive cameras and equipment are not always necessary for taking good photographs. Professional photographers will agree that it’s about the skill, not the tools.

If you haven’t already, introduce these options to your students. Even for younger children, there’s no excuse for disregarding copyright rules. Let’s get them (and ourselves) into good digital citizenship habits. Furthermore, if you spot your colleagues illegally using images, politely point out their mistake and help to address this widespread misuse.

How do you find free-to-use images? How have you introduced these ideas to students? Please post any further advice in the comments section.

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  1. Great article. I recently made an ebook in Book creator for my kindergarten class on transport. I took all the images myself and ultimately, it was extremely satisfying to be able to say I had created everything that went into the final product. Thanks also for the Pixabay recommendation.

    1. Hi,

      That’s great to hear. Similarly, I like it when I can use my own photos in blog posts. In fact, someone recently commented on how they appreciate seeing me in photos. It helps them to connect and relate to me and my articles. When my own photos don’t fit the purpose, there’s always Pixabay – an invaluable resource for me! Let’s give students more opportunities to take and use their own photos!

      Thanks for the comment and feedback!


  2. Great information! I blog, am co-editor of a twice a year professional reading journal, and use images to help my after school children make their own books. In all cases I use the very tools you’ve outlined to make sure there is no copyright infringement. The internet is such a wonderful resource. We want to use it properly and teach our children to do the same. Again thanks for the reminder and the tips!

    1. Hi doctorsam7,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s great to hear that you are using the internet appropriately and promoting these expectations to your students. I agree that the internet is a wonderful resource, as long as the user is aware of their role and responsibilities. Like all digital tools, it becomes a lot less wonderful if people don’t use it responsibly. We need to continually teach, model and reinforce digital citizenship to keep the internet the fantastic resource that it is.



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