Are We Stealing Images?

Many educators, artists, and writers work hard to create slides and images that can be used to spread ideas and initiate important dialogue.  Many people also share their work on the internet through a variety of methods.  This is important as the sharing of ideas can result in “intellectual collisions” (C. Christensen) that can not only create some change but also improve upon ideas once they have been shared.

One thing I have noticed is that many of us share and use this work without reference to the original creator.  When we share an image (or a quote) in a tweet, and we do not give a reference to the artist or author, are we are “stealing” images?

I realize we may not be intentionally stealing images but just because something is on google images or Flickr (or the internet, in general), it does not mean they can be shared without reference.  Many times, they cannot be shared or used AT ALL unless there is a direct link to the original piece that included the work.  Check out this post by Canadian photographer Francis Vachon “10 bogus excuses that people use when they steal a photo from the Internet” for more information.  I used an image from a company on my blog a few years ago and I did not link the image correctly to their site.  They contacted me and respectfully asked that I link to their site; luckily the company used it as a teaching experience (they acknowledged that I did everything right except the image link) and I was able to learn from it.

I have seen the great work from people like Krissy Venosdale, John Spencer, and Bill Ferriter shared without reference and it often appears that the tweeter or blogger has actually created the image. Here are some examples I have seen recently:

CC Image from Venspired https://flic.kr/p/ko5wUX

CC Image from Venspired https://flic.kr/p/ko5wUX

This is the work of Krissy Venosdale and she has made this available through Creative Commons. I have seen her work shared many times and, unfortunately, usually without attribution.  Worse, I have seen posters and images created with the same message and phrases with NO reference to the original work.  Krissy is amazing; if you ask her if you can use her designs and work, she often helps you to do this.  She even created a James Hill version of this poster for us!

CC Image from Bill Ferriter https://flic.kr/p/f43gsN

CC Image from Bill Ferriter https://flic.kr/p/f43gsN

The above slide is from my friend Bill Ferriter.  Bill creates some wonderful slides that always initiate great dialogue.  I have used his slides in presentations, workshops, and staff meetings as Bill shares with Creative Commons permission.  On the slides or in tweets, I attribute his work and often just point to his Flickr site where the image is located.  This is another image that I have seen shared over and over again; I have even seen it attributed to someone else!

I strongly believe that very few of us intentionally use images as if they are our own; however, as educators, we all need to do our best to model the appropriate use of images to our students.  If you want to share an image and are unsure of the reference, ask. Creative Commons is all about sharing; If you use or share images, use Creative Commons images on Flickr and provide the correct attribution.  At the least, do not share an image or quote and present it as if it is the work from you.  If you see an image tweeted without attribution, hold off on the retweet and ask the tweeter where the original image is from (or who created it).

Much like we know not to use the words from books as if they are our own (plagiarism), we should know not to use images from others as if they are our own.  People work hard to create powerful images to drive conversation. We can often share this work, but we must make sure it is referenced properly.  I have made many mistakes of not referencing and using Creative Commons images, but I continually learn in this new world of sharing (I likely still make many mistakes in this area and have even more questions). Hopefully, we can navigate this new world of digital sharing and work together to model appropriate practice and hesitate before downloading and sharing an image without permission.

Some sites to consider using for images:

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Hey Pal,

    This is a post that is near and dear to my heart! I wrote about my own struggles with this last spring:


    I’ve learned a ton of lessons as I watch my own images appear over and over on the web. One is that if I want credit, I’ve got to do a better job putting my name on my content! Proper citation actually starts with the creator — that’s a lesson I think our kids could stand to learn too.

    But I’ve also learned that because incredible content is at our fingertips at all times, we don’t value content or creators nearly as much as we used to. Just as importantly, because a measure of “fame” can be had in places that allow us to “chase followers” and “build our brands,” people are willing to cut corners. They share content in ways that implies that they are the creator in the hopes that they are retweeted and recognized and celebrated.

    What makes me sad is that it discourages creation. And it discourages the free sharing of content. I want to create and share simply because I want to give back and I want to see other people succeed. There’s a real hippie vibe to my motivations for sharing.

    But that warm glow I get when I give something cool away really wears off when content is misused — and when I don’t trust the intentions of the people who are misusing the content. Sometimes it even makes me question my decision to share my content freely under the Creative Commons.

    Either way, it makes for an interesting conversation — and an important lesson for our students to learn about creation in the 21st Century.

    Hope you are well, by the way. I feel like we haven’t connected in ages and I miss that. The picture in the sidebar of your blog is straight beautiful! Happy for you.


    • Hey buddy – I remember reading that post and I seem to be seeing more of this now (maybe I am looking for it more) as people share more images on Twitter than they used to. I will continue to reference images to the original creator and encourage others to do the same. This is a new journey of teaching and modeling we need to do and I know I can be better at times as well. Thank you for creating amazing content and sharing it with so many of us. Go Canucks!

  2. Hey Chris,

    I totally agree. It is sad that images like the ones you shared are used over and over and over again without proper citation. I can only imagine how Krissy and Bill feel when this happens. They are both (and others) so generous with their creativity.

    Bill – your point about going a better job of putting your name on the work you create and share is a good one, however, doesn’t take away from the fact that people are still stealing. They will often take names off and present them as their own much of the time. Very sad.

    I know that some people may find the Creative Commons citations difficult, but this is really no excuse today. I will often just use my own photos in my blogs, instead of other people’s work, so as not to miss a credit or credit incorrectly. There really is no excuse.

    Thanks for your important post, Chris. As always, I enjoy reading your insight.


    • Thanks, Tia – I think I am going to start using my own images more often as well. Now if I can just take the time to organize my photos! 🙂

  3. Great post. I think that we often forget what impact that such actions have on the creation of online communities. My only question is about images that are a little more generic? Such as Quozio images? Do they need to be fully attributed to the ‘creator’ if they quote within themselves to the text at question? I have mused a bit more elsewhere (http://readwriterespond.com/?p=643)

    • Good question and one that I am not sure I know the answer. I think referencing the quote is likely enough as I wouldn’t say a quozio image takes a ton of time/creativity – it is more about sharing the quote within. My bigger concern is when someone like Krissy or Bill takes the time to create an image or a slide that really resonates with people and is shared or copied without reference. Interesting times so we must continue to reflect.

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