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Finding Copyright-Free and Creative Commons Images

Public Domain

Public Domain works are not protected by copyright law and they may therefore be legally used without permission.

A work may enter the public domain when/if:

  • Its copyright protection expires
  • It fails to meet requirements for copyright protection (e.g., Federal government publications, for the most part)
  • It predates copyright law
  • The author chooses to release it to the public domain

More info: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.  (January 2013 Cornell University) and  Is it in the Public Domain?, a series of flowcharts from Samuelson's clinic at UC Berkeley Law School.

While certain works may be in the public domain, expressions or versions of that work may be under copyright protection.

  • For example, Mary Cassatt's paintings may be in the public domain, but photographs of those paintings may be copyrighted.

Read and comply with the use restrictions for specific image sources and always cite images someone else created. 

[Image: Lee, Russell, Sonoma County, California.
The noon collection of eggs...
, 1942.

Library of Congress.]

Creative Commons

creative commons
Creative Commons licenses 
provide a way for people to share their work and make it available for others to build on and reuse.

Although Creative Commons content won't cost you any money to use, it's not totally free; to use it, you must follow certain rules. People who choose to make their content Creative Commons can choose one or more of these licenses to apply to their work:


  • Attribution: You must credit the creator of the work in order to use, copy, or share the content.
  • Non Commercial: You can't make a profit from the content.
  • No Derivative Works: You can't change the content.
  • Share Alike: You can change the content, but you have to let other people use your new work with the same license as the original. In other words, you can't treat any Share Alike work you adapt as your own copyright, even if you radically change it.

Use a Creative Commons License for your own images.

Search Creative Commons (images, films, musics, etc.)