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Fair Use and Creative Commons for Images

Comparing image databases with CC licenses




Can you add your content?

Other tips

CC Search

Search engine

It's a federated search--meaning that it's searching from a variety of other collections--so in theory it can be a one-stop shop for your CC image needs. If you want to see what collections it's searching, there's an option at the top of the page to "Browse by Collection". Those Collections range from Flickr to the Brooklyn Art Museum, so you can expect to find images that really run the gamut.

No, not directly to CC search since it's technically a search engine. But some of the collections it searches do allow you to add images with a machine-readable license

Even though it's run by Creative Commons, CC search is still a third party, so it's a good idea to use the metadata of the image to take a look at the original source and double check the license since CC doesn't have a way to verify the licenses in the search results.

Google Images

Search engine

Did you know that you can narrow your Google Image results by license? Just run your search as you normally would in the Google Image search bar--when you get to the results page, just underneath the search bar you'll see "Tools". In the drop down menu, select "Usage rights".

Same as above.

If you were cautious about third-party license information with CC Search, be especially careful with Google Images. It searches in a lot more places than CC Search does and is equally incapable of verifying the license. Don't use your findings until you independently verify the license from the original source.


Cultural heritage search engine

Europeana is the shared search engine for thousands of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums across the EU. You'll find images of artwork and artifacts, sound recordings, films, and more. To narrow the search by license, run your search in the main searchbar on the homepage and use the "Can I Use It?" filter on the left hand side of the results.


Generally the information from Europeana is quite accurate, but since is searching across many collections, you can also check on the source of the information to confirm the license.

Wikimedia Commons

User-generated database: CC licensed and non-CC licensed

As a collection of freely usable media files, you'll find images but also sound files, animations, video files, and lots more. The contents range from art and culture to science and engineering, and cultural heritage institutions are known to partner with Wikimedia Commons to make high resolution CC licensed or public domain images of their collections available.

Absolutely--and you are encouraged to. They even have monthly photo challenges to encourage engagement.

When trying to assess the authenticity of an image, take a look at the metadata--how complete is it? Does it link out to other websites? Has it been used in Wikipedia articles already? In some cases, there might be another "original source" of the material--such as a museum collection database--or it may have been uploaded and licensed within the Commons.


User-generated database: CC licensed and non-CC licensed

Flickr is mostly comprised of images (and primarily photography) uploaded by users. Flickr's advanced search is most helpful for those seeking CC licensed images, or who want to browse by image composition or texture. Just run your search as you normally would in the search bar on the homepage--when you get to the results page, just underneath the search bar you'll see the drop down menu that reads "Any License".

Finally, Flickr also has a service called The Commons, which allows you to serve some of the world's largest open photo archives.

Yes, though The Commons is contributed to by cultural heritage institutions, mostly.

Because most of the images on Flickr are photographs taken by users and have been directly uploaded and licensed within Flickr, you may have limited tools to discern whether the poster is indeed the creator. Things like that seem suspect--such as historical photographs or vintage advertisements--might merit some additional skepticism, so it may be a good idea to check whether they are from The Commons.


Non-CC user-generated database

Unlike most of the options above (which feature primarily photographic images), Pixabay is a source for free and open vector graphics and illustrations.

Yes--but they are not licensed under a CC licensed (read more to the right)

Technically Pixabay offers it own simplified license, but users who use its images "are granted an irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive and royalty free right to use, download, copy, modify or adapt the Images and Videos for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Attribution of the photographer or Pixabay is not required but is always appreciated."


Non-CC user-generated database

Much like Pixabay, Unsplash is a database of images contributed by users that offers free and unrestricted use--but not with a CC-license. Unsplash features contemporary photography almost exclusively.

Yes--but not with a CC license. Read their license and their submission guidelines first.

Attribution isn't required--but it's a good idea! It's a good habit to build and it helps get the photographer's name out there, not to mention Unsplash's.