Copyright: Finding images you can freely use

Last week, I posted about being hypocritical about copyright and attribution. In that post, I encouraged teachers to learn about creative commons licensing and to focus on using images that adhere to CC or have been licensed by the creator for “re-use”. In this post, I will outline how to leverage Flickr to search for Creative Commons licensed content.

While Flickr (and Picasa) are very popular photo-sharing sites, we often think of them as just a place to “put” images for our friends or family. The fact that most flickr users make the majority of their images available to the general population of the internet is almost taken for granted in today’s society. That said, both of these sites hold amazing possibilities for finding incredible “man on the street” photographs of world events and many many other topics.

The question that should be running through your mind is: Aren’t those images subject to the same copyright laws as searching for images on Google or even just going to any website?

The answer is: Yes! (for the most part…)

One of the main differences is that the creators of these images have often specifically licensed the images they put on Flickr with one of the formats of Creative Commons Licensing… AND, Flickr does a wonderful job of allowing you to refine your search to only show Creative Commons licensed material.

Flickr (note click on the screen shots below to see enlarged versions)

For years, Flickr has been my “go to” resource for images. You can not only upload and share images from your life and view amazing images from around the world, you leverage Flickr like a image search engine to find incredible content (and you don’t even have to have a Flickr account)!

To use Flickr as a search engine for Creative Commons Licensed images, simple got to and enter search term and click search:

Flickr Search

The search results that return, will be for ALL Flickr content regardless of license. So, in the case of my search for “tiger” I got 1,463,249 results. Now let’s narrow that down to ONLY Creative Commons licensed images:

Flickr Search Results for “tiger”

Right near the “Search” button, you will see a link for “Advanced Search” Click on that link and the advanced search tools will come up. Here you have determine whether you want to “exclude” certain tags, just want images and video, or screenshots, etc, or even limit the date range of the images. Scroll down to the bottom, and you see the Creative Commons information:

Flickr Advanced Search

To limit the search to ONLY Creative Commons licensed content, check this box. Because there are a variety of options for Creative Commons licensing (reuse, commercial, adaption / modification) check the appropriate boxes as you wish. Then click “Search” at the bottom to re-display the Creative Commons limited search results. Now, I am down to 180,556 results, but EACH of these is licensed to allow me to legally reuse these images with attribution without violating copyright. The results also show clearly that I am limiting my results to “Showing Creative Commons Licensed Content”:

Flickr Creative Commons Licensed Results

From here, simply click on the image that you are interested in and by clicking on the “More Actions” button you can see the other sizes available for the image, download the image, and more. Additionally, you can copy the URL, as well as the link to the creator of the content for your attribution.

Flickr Tiger Image

You can even see the Creative Commons Licenses that the creator has applied to the images, and if you click on the licensing, it will take you to a detailed description of the license rights for the image:

Flickr – Creative Commons License Information

As a final note, be sure to cite the image appropriately depending on the attribution format your school uses (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) Often when using Creative Commons licensed images and video in a digital production, a hyperlink right back to the source can be enough, but be sure to provide attribution and whenever possible, it is good practice to contact the creator to let them know you will be using one of their images and for what purpose.

In a future post, I’ll walk through using Picasa and even a simple Google Search to show how to leverage those services to find Creative Commons licensed images.

Image Credit: Copyright – Keshiki from Flickr CC

Image Credit: Flickr Screenshots – EdReach

Image Credit: Tiger – by Mauro Luna from Flickr CC

What do you think?

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  1. I have found myself using Flickr CC images for my blog and presentations more and more. I wish that there was a way to use the CC search as a default option instead of having to go into “advanced’ each time you search.