Can I Use It?

Barbara Waxer - Author & Speaker

College Faculty | Copyright & Finding Media Enthusiast and Trainer

Welcome to the largest compilation of creative commons, public domain, and free-to-use media websites on the planet. I've annotated descriptions to make it easy to learn exactly what you can and cannot do with the works.

Do search for and check the Terms of Use, About Us, Permission, Copyright, or FAQ pages for attribution requirements and other details, such as whether or how you can use photos of recognizable people commercially.
I've included many smaller, hard-to-find, and lesser-known sites that offer high-quality or unique images.  I do not include sites that aggregate Creative Commons content but are not diligent about explaining the license types and thus create more confusion than provide a service. I also do not list sites that include offensive content.

Helpful Definitions:

  • Creative Commons (CC) license. You keep the copyrights you want, but allow others to use your work provided they meet the stipulations you set, such as providing attribution or not using the work commercially. Read about license specifics or watch a great overview video.
  • Public Domain. Work that is no longer protected by intellectual property law. Use public domain works however you want, unless you want to use the works commercially and they contain a recognizable face, particularly a famous face (and possible a famous building or sculpture).
    What you need to know before using a public domain image commercially:
    • The work may still contain trademarked content. Odd, but true. For example, the Internet Archive (great resource) contains vintage TV commercials that are in the public domain. While the commercial is PD, the brand that it advertises probably still has trademark protection. As a general rule, avoid showing the product.
    • Note that public domain images of people  may be still be protected by rights of publicity or privacy. 
    • Rights of publicity (celebrities and public figures) are  established individually by each state, even after death; commercial uses may depend on getting permission.
    • Rights of privacy (everyone) refer to the right to be left alone and are established individually by each state. See Model Release, below.
  • No Known Copyright Restrictions. While you may see this phrase at various institution, the exact use it infers is not always the same. What is true is that the institution is unaware of any copyright restrictions on its use. It may also mean one of the following, so that's why it's important to read their terms of use.
    • A copyright existed at one time, but has expired, was never renewed, or the owner may have intentionally placed the content into the public domain.
    • The content was never eligible for copyright protection because it was created by an employee of the United States as part of his or her official duties.
    • There are no copyright markings or other indications on the content to indicate that it was copyrighted or otherwise restricted.
    • The institution's records do not indicate any evidence of copyright restrictions. 
      • This absolutely does NOT necessarily mean that the content is in the public domain, but rather indicates that no evidence has been found to show that copyright restrictions apply.
      • Personal, editorial, and educational uses are probably fine. If your final use is commercial, however, invest the time to contact the institution and get additional information.
  • Model Release. Photos of recognizable people that will be used commercially must include a model release granting permission to publish their image. For children, a parent or legal guardian must sign a release. If you need an image or video with people, take this very seriously. This includes any Creative Commons-licensed and public domain works! There is significant and unforgiving civil liability attached.
The Cootie - 1922
The Library of Congress - The Cootie
"No Known Copyright Restrictions"

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