Copyright Considerations When Creating a Communication Board

Copyright Considerations in Making a Communication Board

Strolling through a park you see a beautiful Communication Board, and two kids interacting with it together that may have otherwise not had an easy way to do so.   You may think to yourself, “Hey I could make one myself!” After all, it would be great PR for your city or school. It could help a lot of people communicate. It promotes inclusion, awareness, and services of those with speech disorders. These are all great reasons to get started in creating a community communication board. That said, not taking the time to understand proper copyright etiquette could result in a big headache of all that effort going to waste and even the possibility of  legal troubles.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.

People and companies alike have a right to profit off of their work. Whether it is an individual artist whose work you might have found on google, or a larger company that has a collection of images you are currently using in a software program, the ultimate right to decide how that work is used is up to that entity. Just because a search engine or a software for work gave you access to the image, does not conflate to the ability to do anything you want with the image.   It is not safe to assume usage of anything beyond what is explicitly stated within terms and conditions by the copyright’s owner. 

What does copyright have to do with my desire to print a communication board?

A communication board that you find online may have one of multiple copyright holders. There are even copyright holders of the individual icons themselves. Often the communication board includes icons from Smarty Symbols, PCS and others. However, there are instances in which the same communication board may include icons that belong to multiple copyright owners from people you can’t quite trace back. Frequently, this is the case for when someone  creates a communication board from Google images or photographs.


Another copyright holder may be the designer– the person who selected, decided the arrangement, background colors, title, and any other details a communication board may have. 


All of these previously mentioned copyright holders will have a claim to the copyright of the board you are considering to take to your local printer and placing on your local playground. Even the city will be liable for such copyright infringement. So, what can you do to avoid such an expensive yet well intentioned act? (a copyright owner can claim thousands of dollars per image on each board).

Always Ask Permission

For each image you wish to use,  this will require you to:

  • Identify the copyright holder(s)
  • Find a way to contact the copyright holder(s) 
  • Create a detailed outline of your intended use to send to the copyright holder(s)
  • Wait for a response from the copyright holder(s)
  • Draw up an agreement with the copyright holder(s)
  • Create a new plan for if the request is denied or goes unanswered

How is this Different from Using Materials in my Classroom?

When using a copyrighted image outside of the classroom, you no longer have control over who is accessing the materials at all times or for what purpose.  The “classroom” exemption applies to very limited situations that are in a “place devoted to instruction” and outlines who can have access to the works.  Deviating outside of the explicitly stated exceptions of the law can, again, cause unwanted headaches or even legal issues.

What about that Communication Board PDF I found?

You found a PDF of a communication board online. It’s laid out nicely and fits the situation or place you need. Although you may feel tempted to just print it off and display it, it may not be a good idea.


  • Are they the the sole owners of all the images in the communication Board?
  • Does the board explicitly give permission for “unlimited and unrestricted usage”?


Just because they gave permission for one form (electronically as a PDF), does not mean that it gives permission in other forms such as printing. Likewise, even if they state permission to use it does not mean they gave you permission to distribute it to others.


Additionally, you still need to do your due diligence that they are in fact the copyright holders of all images displayed and have the ability to give permission for not just the overall work but the individual images therein contained.

There are Easier Routes

Smarty Symbols now has communication boards for schools, playgrounds, medical facilities, and other public places for purchase. Not only does it stop the headache of you needing to navigate the copyright world,  but they have quality durable boards that are designed by a Speech Therapist. They even offer ways to have the board customized to your specific location if there are unique items (such as playground equipment). This is a great option for getting a communication board that will make a lasting difference for your community.

Copyright Considerations with Creating a Communication Board