Use Creative Commons to Find Free Images for Your Blog

edited August 2023 in Business

Images boost engagement on social media. BuzzSumo found that Facebook posts with pictures have 2.3x more engagement than those without, so images are essential when marketing your content. But the stock photos required to make your blog shine can be expensive, and using Google images to fill your blog will often be subject to restrictive copyright laws, leaving you facing legal consequences. But what if you could get quality pictures and content legally for free?

Enter Creative Commons (CC) - an alternative to restrictive copyright laws. CC allows you to license creators' work freely and legally. CC work can be copied, shared, edited, repurposed, and built upon within copyright laws. All without paying a cent.

Your content will sparkle with over 2 billion CC-licensed works spanning:

  • Video 
  • Photography 
  • Audio 
  • Scientific research 
  • Literary Works 
  • and more! 

We'll explain each Creative Commons license type, how to search for this content, and how to attribute content published to the original author. By understanding the various licenses and how to attribute content correctly, you can ensure your business uses copyrighted material legally and ethically.

What is Creative Commons? 

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides free licenses and tools that allow creators to permit others to use their work under certain conditions. The creator defines the rules of how their work is shared. Rather than the standard prohibitive "All rights reserved" copyright rule, Creative Commons uses "Some rights reserved."

When an author releases work under a CC license, you won't need to seek usage permission, and you'll know precisely how to use it. 

How does Creative Commons work? 

If you create a YouTube video and want to add some background music, you can't use just any song because of licensing and copyright restrictions. With Creative Commons material, you can find a tune and use it for free legally; you don't need the creator's permission. All you do is follow the license terms. 

By sharing, creators gain exposure to new audiences while maintaining copyright over their images, music, and videos. Depending on what the creator wants, you'll need to follow a few license conditions, including: 

1.   Attribution: give the author proper credit. 

2.   Share-Alike: use the same license terms as the original work. 

3.   Non-Commercial: can't use their creations to make money. 

4.   No Derivatives: can't alter the original work. 

We'll cover the types of licenses in detail in the next section. 

Creative Commons licenses 

There are six Creative Commons licenses, each with a different set of rules permitting sharing and reuse by the end user. All require that you give credit or attribution to the original author's work. To protect your business from copyright infringement, check the license terms before you use a Creative Commons-licensed image. 

For small business owners, it is best to look at commercial Creative Commons-licensed content. Here's a quick rundown of the six Creative Commons licenses: 

1) Attribution (CC BY):  

Attribution is the most permissive of the Creative Commons licenses. Under this license, you can share, modify, and build upon the original work if you credit the original author. You can use the work for any purpose, even commercial usage.

You must not suggest that the creator has endorsed or recommended you through your use of their work. So don't use these images for testimonials.

2) Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): 

This license is similar to Attribution, as you can modify and redistribute content under the ShareAlike license as long as you credit it to the original author and publish it under the same license. Hence, the ShareAlike license.

3) Attribution-NoDerivatives (CC BY-ND):  

The NoDerivatives license allows you to use the work for any purpose providing you credit the initial author and don't make any changes to the original work. For a picture, this means you cannot make any changes such as:

  • Changing the colors 
  • Cropping the image

In other words, you can't modify, remix, or build upon the original work under this license.

4) Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC):  

The NonCommercial license allows you to use, modify, or adapt the work only for non-commercial purposes, and you credit the original creator.

If you're a business blogger, remember that your blog has commercial intent because it is designed to generate or support new customers. Therefore, avoid using media under this license if you publish it on your company blog.

5) Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA):  

The hybrid NonCommercial-ShareAlike combines both the NonCommercial and ShareAlike licenses. This license lets you redistribute, adapt, and build upon work for:

  • Non-commercial purposes 
  • Credit the original author 
  • Republish under the same ShareAlike terms

6) Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND):  

The NonCommercial-NoDerivs is the most restrictive of the six Creative Commons licenses. It allows you to share the work for non-commercial purposes only, and you can't make any changes to it.

You could publish a NonCommercial-NoDerivs image on your personal website, but you must display the picture as you found it and attribute it to the original author.

Using Creative Commons Content 

With CC, always check the terms of the work you want to use the image or other creation to ensure you comply with the author's specific wishes. Remember, they're not free of copyright; they're simply a way for creators to give more flexibility in how you can use their work. When you use an image published under CC, you must still give credit to the original author and follow the other license rules. Standard copyright law applies if you breach the license and use the material in a way that's not permitted.

Remember: If you can't identify the work's creator or the terms of use, don't use it. A CC license breach constitutes copyright infringement.

What Does "Non-Commercial Use" Mean? 

The "non-commercial use" clause can be confusing. The Creative Commons' Wiki defines it as:

"Non-Commercial means not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation." 

For example, using a cake photo on a birthday invite would be non-commercial. However, using that same image in a bakery ad would fall under commercial use. Even a nonprofit charity couldn't use the image to promote a fundraiser. If the goal is to generate income, this is commercial use, and you must find content with a commercial license for your business content. 

How to find content with Creative Commons 

CC-licensed media is easy to find on these 7 sites: 

1) Operverse 

Operverse has over 600 million free stock photos, images, and audio to explore. Filters on the left side allow you to choose the correct cc license. Choose CC BY to allow commercial use.

2) Flickr  

Flickr allows you to search by image license. On the search page, navigate to the Any license dropdown menu in the top left of the screen and choose Commercial Use allowed to search CC-licensed images.

3) Wikimedia Commons 

Wikimedia Commons has over 88 million free images, audio, and other media files. You can copy, use, and modify files provided you follow the author's terms.

4) Noun Project

If you need an icon, the Noun Project has over 5 million icons plus photos. You cannot edit the original for icons and pictures and must attribute the creator. Commercial plans are available.

5) Unsplash 

Unsplash has over 3 million free high-resolution images in the public domain. Each photo is under Creative Commons Zero (CC0), which means:

  • Unlimited usage 
  • Commercial and non-commercial purposes 
  • No attribution or permission required

6) Google Images 

While not all images on Google Images are CC, you can limit your search. On the image search results page:

  1. Select the Tools tab 
  2. Tap the Usage Rights dropdown 
  3. Select the Creative Commons license that matches your need

7) Microsoft Bing 

Bing's Image search allows you to filter image results by specific types of CC licenses. On the image search results page:

  1. Select the Filter tab at the top right of your screen 
  2. Select the License dropdown 
  3. Select the Creative Commons license that matches your requirements 

How to Give Creative Commons Attribution 

You can use Creative Commons content if you follow the license conditions.

1) Identify your chosen image's license. 

Remember, before using CC content, check the license details. 

2) Give attribution 

Remember that all CC licenses have attribution as a condition, even if you use them for personal or non-commercial purposes. 

To correctly attribute images, include the following details, ideally under the relevant image:

"gloomy forest" by Artem Gorchakov, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Use the TASL method approach: 

  • Title: The Image's title. If the title is missing, you can skip it. 
  • Author: The Creator's name, ideally with a link to their profile page 
  • Source: A backlink to the original image on Flickr 
  • License: A backlink to the CC license type. 

If you have modified the image from the original, you should include a further sentence identifying the change made. For example:

"gloomy forest" by Artem Gorchakov, licensed under CC BY 2.0, desaturated from original.

Read the CC's wiki best practices for attribution for more detailed examples and how to handle other media, such as videos or podcasts.

If you're looking for free images or media on your website or blog, Creative Commons is an excellent resource, and it won't break your budget. Find content that inspires you, check the CC license, and discover how CC content can improve your blog. You gain access to free, legal content, and the creators enjoy more exposure as others share their work.

*The opinions reflected in this article are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect any official positions or claims by Acer Inc.

About Robert Stark: Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech. 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.



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