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Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Images   Tags: creative commons, how_to, images, public domain  

This guide will help you find and correctly attribute public domain and Creative Commons images for your project or presentation.
Last Updated: Jun 18, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Public Domain

Public Domain LogoWhen you are adding images, videos and other content that you did not create to your presentation, it is important to make sure that you are not violating anyone's copyright. One way to do so is to find public domain images for your presentations. explains the public domain as follows: "A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner." Because such works can be used without first seeking permission, they are ideal for many projects, particularly those that will extend beyond educational uses.

Note: Even if a work that you use is in the public domain, it is advisable to provide attribution for the work or, at a minimum, keep a record of the attribution of the work, so that you or other interested parties can find it later if necessary.

  • Pixabay
    A site that provides free, public domain images that don't even require attribution. Unfortunately, it also offers Shutterstock images, which aren't free, but they are clearly set off so I don't think users will find that too confusing.
  • Public Domain Image Resources
    Wikipedia maintains a page of online resources for finding public domain images and other content online. While not all of the sites include exclusively public domain images, this list is a good place to start looking for content, particularly if you are looking for more specialized items.
  • Getty Open Content Program
    The Getty recently started an Open Content Program to "share images of works of art in an unrestricted manner, freely, so that all those who create or appreciate art…will have greater access to high-quality digital images for their studies and projects." You can find these images by conducting a search on the Getty Search Gateway and then filtering your results by checking the box next to "Open Content Images", which is the second option in the Highlights section of the filters in the left menu. All images found through this program should be credited as "Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program" (see
  • Rijksmuseum
    Images on the Rijksmuseum website are fully searchable and downloadable. Each item that has entered the public domain includes this information in the section of the item description entitled acquisition and rights.
  • Yale University Art Gallery
    The Yale University Art Gallery has stated that, pursuant to the University's Open Access policy, "anyone may use the Gallery’s open-access material without further application, authorization, or fees due to the Gallery or to Yale." Unfortunately, at this time, there is no way to limit search results to only items that are in the public domain, however, when you click on an item, the entry will state whether the image is in the public domain (see image). You can find more information on properly attributing images on the Art Gallery's Terms of Use page.
  • Flickr's The Commons
    Flickr maintains The Commons, which offers access to images no known copyright restrictions from over 70 institutions ranging from NASA to the National Library of Sweden. In almost all cases, the images have already entered the Public Domain for one reason or another. Users can limit their image searches to a specific institution by navigating to an institution's photostream and then selecting that option from the dropdown options that appear as the user types a search into the search box.
  • The Public Domain Review
    This resource curates a collection of images, books, films and audio files that are available in the public domain. The collection can be browsed by medium, time period, tag and source. Once you are in a collection, you can also sort by the type of public domain rights that apply to the items (for example, whether it is in the public domain everywhere in the world).
  • Bing
    Once you run a search using Bing Images, you can limit your results to Public Domain images by clicking on "License" in the menu below the search box and selecting Public Domain.
  • Public Domain Pictures
    This site offers access to free photos. Users have the option to pay the photographer for the image, but this is not required.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Image Gallery
    The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a database of images pertaining to their work and areas of purview. Because the images were mostly taken for the government, virtually all are in the public domain. Any images that are not in the public domain are marked as such.
  • NASA
    NASA's website offers access to many of their images, audio files, videos and other media, which are generally not copyrighted and freely available for use.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    As government images, almost all of the images in this collection are in the public domain, though the website states that you must credit NOAA if you use one of their images. They especially encourage educational use.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons Logo

If you can't find Public Domain images that fit your needs, you can also use Creative Commons-licensed content as long as you ensure that you correctly attribute this content to its creator according to the terms of the license under which the image is offered. You can find more information about this on the Creative Commons FAQ.

If you want to find Creative Commons content to include in your presentations, the sources below make it easy. Note: Even if content is covered by a Creative Commons license, you must always make sure that your use does not violate that license and that you properly attribute the content.

  • Creative Commons
    The Creative Commons website includes an option to search for Creative Commons content across numerous sources, including Flickr, Google and Wikimedia Commons among many others.
  • Compfight
    Compfight is another tool that shows both commercial and Creative Commons images, but it sets off the non-Creative Commons images in a separate section to make the distinction clear. Once you have run a search, you also have various facets in the left menu that can help you narrow your results by license type (along with other features of the image)
  • Let's CC
    Available in both English and Korean, this is another option for finding Creative Commons-licensed content.
  • PhotoPin
    This image search engine returns both Creative Commons and non-Creative Commons images. When you download any image, you can also download the necessary HTML to appropriately attribute the image to its creator.
  • Flickr
    This section of Flickr offers images that are available under a Creative Commons license and also explains the different types of Creative Commons licenses. You can also search for Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr by going to the advanced search link in the upper right hand corner of the page and checking the appropriate boxes in the Creative Commons section at the bottom of the advanced search page.
  • flickrCC
    This is another tool that uses the Flickr API to access images licensed under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. One advantage of this site is that it offers a mobile interface.
  • Flickr Storm
    This is another tool for finding Creative Commons images on Flickr. It allows you to save images you are interested in and either view them on Flickr or download them and also provides information on proper attribution.
  • Google Images
    While not all images on Google Images are Creative Commons licensed, it is possible to limit your search results to only images available under a Creative Commons license. To do so, run your search in the standard Google Image search bar and then on the results page, click on search tools just below the search box. A further drop down menu will then appear with usage rights as one of the options. From there, users can limit results to the proper rights. Unfortunately, they do not use the exact language of Creative Commons licenses, but you can nevertheless use the service to find usable images.
  • Bing
    As with Google, not all images available via Bing's image search are available under a Creative Commons license. However, once you run a search using Bing Images, you can limit your results to appropriately licensed images by clicking on "License" in the menu below the search box. Though users are not able to limit by specific types of Creative Commons licenses, there are definitions of their categories to help you match the license to your needs. You can also limit by Public Domain images.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    This site offers fully searchable access to media, including images, sounds and videos, that has been uploaded by users, mostly for use on Wikipedia. Most of the content is available under some sort of Creative Commons license and licensing information is clearly provided at the bottom of each piece of media's individual page.
  • Europeana
    Europeana is an online collection of content from European libraries, archives, museums and other institutions. Once you run a search in their search bar, you can limit your results to items that are freely usable or available under a Creative Commons license using the facets under Copyright in the left menu.
  • Multicolr Search Lab
    This tool from TinEye allows you to search for Creative Commons-licensed images by color. Users can enter up to five colors simultaneously and will return dozens of images that include all of the selected colors. Images are pulled from Flickr.

What is the license?

Check out this infographic by adityadipankar for a quick intro to the various types of Creative Commons licenses. 

Creative Commons Infographic

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