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Academic Honesty When Using Images, Music, and Video

Academic Honesty is an important mindset we work to cultivate in our students as teachers. We do a very good job to teach our students the ethical (and legal) practices required to ensure written work is their own (i.e. not plagiarized). We teach students how to summarize, paraphrase, and quote. And when ethics-got2they have used other’s ideas, we teach them to cite those ideas and the texts they come from using standard formats like MLA or APA. Along with our intuition, we have awesome tools like, which help the students and us do originality checks on their written work, giving us teachable moments to help students learn from their mistakes when they occur.

With teachers doing more activities and projects that require multimedia elements like images, music, and video, students are faced with the process of having to acquire these elements. The Internet has made it very easy to acquire these elements in just a few clicks. What is often lacking in the process of acquiring and using media, however, is the same ethical practice and mindset we have for writing. We have to be sure that our Academic Honesty scope also applies to the use of images, music, and video in student work. Students need to ensure they do not infringe on the copyrights of others, doing their best to use properly licensed media with clear and accurate attributions given in the work. This is an essential part of digital citizenship training for our students.

Though it’s important to be aware of the backbone to this issue, I’m not going to go into the depths of Copyright law and Fair Use in this post. I will just focus on some quick and practical ways you can get your students to have an ethical mindset to find and use properly licensed media. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tool like for checking multimedia, so we have to build our understanding of the means and websites necessary to get properly licensed media, ensuring and expecting our students are using them.

First, teaching this stop light metaphor to your students is a great place to start to build an ethical mindset for multimedia use.

ethical-media-use-traffic-lightTHE BEST OPTION: Students create their own images, music, and/or video. In the same way we expect students to write using their own words, students creating their own original media when possible is the best way to avoid academic dishonesty and breaching copyright in schoolwork. At the same time, it promotes additional creativity in the classroom. It helps our students to be creators more than consumers with their technology.

THE GOOD AND LEGAL OPTION: Students acquire and use multimedia from Creative Commons, Public Domain, or Royalty Free Internet sites with clear and accurate attribution. These are sites where the creator of the media has given certain usage permissions in advance; the student does not need to seek explicit permission from the creator in advance of using the media as long as there is attribution. Students do need to be aware there are different types of Creative Commons licenses and need to understand what they can and can’t do with the media according the license the creator chooses.

ONLY WHEN THERE IS NO OTHER OPTION: Students acquire and use (copyrighted) media from the Internet with clear and accurate attribution. The use falls under Fair Use. Sometimes there is no other option like when a student needs a scientific image, historical image, or other obscure content that would be difficult to create or find through the other options. In most cases, the use of the media would fall under Fair Use as long as there is clear and accurate attribution to the creator.

It’s also important for you to model this mindset and practice with your students. Follow the stoplight as you seek and use multimedia in your lessons. Always be sure to clearly and accurately attribute multimedia work used in your lessons and presentations.

Second, here are some places where you can guide students to find Creative Commons, Public Domain, and Royalty Free media.

All Media


  • PixabayGeneral image site; most images are Public Domain and free to use.
  • Photos for ClassLegally reusable images with attribution already on each image!
  • PhotoPinCreative Commons licensed photos.
  • TinEye Labs – Legally reusable images searchable by color.
  • Wikimedia Commons – Contains Public Domain and legally licensed media.
  • CompfightYet another search engine to find legally reusable images.


  • CCMixter – Thousands of hours of free to use music for video, film, or video game projects.
  • Free Music Archive – An interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads.
  • Jamendo – Creative Commons licensed music from a variety of genres.

Lastly, here are attribution statements your students and you can use. Note: these attribution statements usually appear in-the-moment when the media appears in the work. For example, if a student is doing a presentation, the image attribution should appear directly on the slide on which the image is placed.

Images (be sure to put the following statement ON EACH IMAGE when it appears in your presentation or other multimedia product)

  • If you have a photographer’s name – “Image by <author’s name> on <website name>
  • If you don’t have a photographer’s name – “Image from <website name>

Video (put the following statement in a corner near the beginning of the video clip for about 5-10 seconds)

  • If you have a videographer’s or production company’s name – “Video by <author’s name> on <website name>
  • If you don’t have a videographer’s or production company’s name – “Videofrom <website name>

Music (it will depend on the context in which music is used. If the music is in a video, put the following statement in a corner when the music begins playing for about 5-10 seconds. If the music is in a presentation, a attribution can be on a slide or can be stated orally if it fits well into the script. If it’s a podcast, the speaker can attribute music at the end of the podcast).

  • <”Song name”> by <artist or band’s name> from <website name>

Image Attribution 1


Citing Multimedia in Projects and Presentations

The in-text citation process in writing has been very streamlined for a while now with clear styles and expectations coming from the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Other forms like footnoting have been around for a long time, as well, even though it’s not used as commonly any more. Schools typically require one of these styles to be used in research writing and the style is often assessed as part of the writing process.

Due to the easy access of it now on the Internet, students are being required to use more and more multimedia in their work and class projects. Many of these projects are being created on or being published to the web via wikis, blogs, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 tools. Students need to show clear attribution to any media used in these projects or presentations in the same way they cite text sources in writing, but it isn’t always happening. In the same way consistent styles for text-based research citation and attribution have been created, a consistent way of citing or attributing multimedia is needed. This is also the case for images used during formal presentations given both in-class and to larger communities.

Both MLA and APA provide styles for full source citations that get listed in a final works cited/bibliography list. Either of these formats can still be used on a sources page in a project or end slide of a presentation. But, what about the immediate attribution that appears on or next to the image, video, or in-line audio within a project or presentation? I haven’t seen or heard of a consistent way of doing this, but here are few possibilities.

1. Just use a traditional MLA or APA style parenthetical citation with the creator’s last name/username or title of the work (if no creator name is given). If the media is presented in an online published project, the student (or teacher) could hyperlink the citation to its original location, then have the full source citation at the end of the project. Alternatively, they could provide the full source citation near the image as seen below. This takes up a little more space, but all the attribution information is there immediately for the viewer.

From a project published to a wiki

If it’s a presentation, then just putting the MLA or APA style parenthetical citation on each image or next to an embedded video with the creator’s last name or the title of the image if no creator is given would be the process.

From a formal presentation

2. Another option is to put the full or shortened URL on or next to the media whether it’s a presentation or an online published project. An additional element as you can see in this example is the acknowledgement of the Creative Commons licensed nature of the image, which is important to show that the image is legally reusable.

From a conference presentation

3. A slight expansion on #1 above would be to use a consistent attribution phrase like “Image by [name] on [website]” or “Image from [website]” if a person’s name is not given. This is the style I typically use and guide my students to use.

From an in-class presentation

I prefer this 3rd style since it’s a little cleaner and visually pleasing, especially in presentations. I don’t think any audience member is going to try to get to the image during a presentation. With that in mind, I think using the URL for attribution isn’t necessary in a presentation. In text-based research and writing, only putting a URL in a citation is not accepted in MLA and APA, so I guess I carry this over to the attribution of multimedia, also. A works/images/media cited page can be provided at the end of presentation that shows all detail, then the presenter can email or post online the full source list for any audience member that wants the links to the media.

In the end, as long as there is a consistent method used and required and the media used is Creative Commons licensed, royalty-free, or labeled for legal reuse, then an important digital citizenship skill is being taught. It can even be assessed if desired (see rubric example below). Having students create their own media instead of downloading it is even better as it improves and builds creative tendencies and ways of thinking. In those instances I tell students they don’t have to attribute themselves unless they want.

Responsible Digital CitizenshipStudents advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology The student took great care to ensure all images, video, and other multimedia were original, had a Creative Commons license, and/or labeled for legal reuse. Attribution was given to all of the authors of any artistic element used and all were clearly and correctly cited with Internet-based sources hyperlinked. A complete and correctly formatted works cited was included at the end of the product. The student took care to ensure almost all images, video, and other multimedia were original, had a creative commons license, and/or labeled for legal reuse. Attribution was given to most of the authors of any artistic element used and most were cited with Internet-based sources hyperlinked. A complete and mostly correct works cited was included at the end of the product. The students may have used an image, video, and/or other multimedia that was protected under copyright, but it was cited. Attribution was given to a few of the authors of any artistic element used and/or there were gross errors in citations. Some Internet-based sources were not hyperlinked. A works cited was included, but contained many errors in format. There was blatant infringement of copyright by inserting downloaded images, video, and/or other multimedia from the internet that was not licensed for reuse. No attribution is given. No Internet-based sources are hyperlinked. No works cited is included.

If you have any other approaches or suggestions about this issue, I would love to hear them.

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