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Finding Copyright-Free and Creative Commons Images


Use this guide to locate copyright-free images for education, research, publication, and other non-commercial purposes.

[Langwitches, Copyright- Creative Commons-Fair Use- Public Domain, 2009. Flickr.]

See also

Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media Harvard's guide includes links for images, audio, and video.

Images and Copyright

Just because a image is online and easily accessible does not mean it's in the public domain. Images can still be protected by copyright, even if a creator or © is not clearly stated.

There are many ways to find images that you can use without worrying about copyright restrictions:

Find and use images with a Creative Commons license, which provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work — on conditions of the creator's choice. 

Use images under the Fair Use provision.   Copyright law allows for the use of copyrighted works under some specific circumstances and for particular purposes such as criticism, comment, scholarship, or research. Fair use is determined by the following four factors (from Chapter 1, Section 107 of the Copyright Law):

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Use Images that are in the Public Domain. When a work is not covered by copyright (because the copyright term has expired, the creator has released the work, or the work was never copyrighted) it is in the public domain and can be used freely.

Use Images from Subscription Databases.  The SSU Library subscribes to several image databases, such as Artstor. Most of these images are licensed for academic work only and may not be used on open websites. They can, however be used for class projects, Moodle pages, and in some cases, academic publishing.

Many databases and web sites provide information about how their images can be used. Usage guidelines can vary considerably, so be alert to differences and details.