The Wikimedia Commons Logo.

The Wikimedia Commons Logo.

Bloggers and writers all across the internet use pictures as a means of catching the readers attention, and communicating to them an idea, whether it’s informative, humorous, or simply a piece of art to be appreciated. But adding a picture to a post is more complicated than it may appear to be. Many of the photos people post to the web don’t belong to them, and are being re-posted on countless websites without proper credit being given to it’s original creator. Not only is this morally wrong, but in some cases it can also be illegal. Below are a set of steps and guidelines that will help any one looking to spice up their web content do so the proper way.

Search for an image with Creative Commons Licensing

Not every image you find on the web can be legally reused without written consent from its owner. Fortunately, there are many images that have been made available under Creative Commons, which is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. To find images that are explicitly licensed under Creative Commons, you can use any number of popular image indexing websites. The sites have a search-able database of photos and images that have been tagged with key words relevant to their content. There are also detailed permissions and limitations on the images, so that it’s clear how they can and cannot be used.  Some of the more popular image indexes include (but are not limited to):

Using search filters to your advantage

Simply plugging in a word or two into a search bar will return all the available images that match your  terms. However, some of those images may not be licensed for re-use, or they may be restricted to only certain types of use. You’re likely to find several search categories that will help you narrow down the images into groups, based on their copyright restrictions. Below are some of the common filters used on popular image indexing sites.

  • Creative Commons – A wide category that includes any images licensed through Creative Commons, while still including many different limitations within itself. The only images not included would be those not available for re-use at all.
  • Commercial Use Allowed – Images that have been specifically granted permissions to allow them to be used for commercial purposes.
  • Modification Allowed – Changes can be made to these images before being uploaded to a new site.
  • US Government Works – Images created by US Government employees with no copyright protection that can be used freely by the public. An example of this would be satellite photos of outer space taken by NASA telescopes.
  • No Restrictions – As you would imagine, any images that fall into this category can be used as you please, with no limitations in place at all.

Different Licenses And What They Mean

Once you’ve found an image that you like, you’ll need to check to make sure the licenses allow for the type of use you intend. The primary types of Creative Commons licenses are as follows, with their descriptions as listed on the Creative Commons website.

  • image001 Attribution (CC BY) – This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  • image003 Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • image005 Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • image007 Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • image009 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • image011 Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
  • Government Works – It is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.

If the database you’re searching doesn’t use creative commons licenses, but the images are still available for free, look for the terms of use, permissions, or copyright section of the page for specific citation requirements. If no citation requirements  are specified, it’s best to document the creator, title, and source of the image when used.

Giving credit where credit is due

Knowing the limitation on how an image can be used is great, but proper credit still needs to be given when the image is used. Many image databases will provide handy copy-pasteable, pre-written lines of text that have all of the required information needed for a proper attribution statement. If that isn’t already provided, then be sure to list the source of the image, its creator, and its licensing information, preferably with a link to the exact terms of the license, whether that be on the Creative Commons website, or another site that details the license.


Leave a Reply