How to legally use other people’s photos and images under Creative Commons license

Luckily for all of us, one group has come up with a licensing scheme that makes this process easy and standardized.Whether you are starting a blog, a website or a game development project, content creators are always on the hunt for images to use. I recently wrote about issues with bloggers using other photographers’ photos, but I thought I would spend one post describing one way that this can be accomplished in a bit more detail.

The big problem with licensing:

One of the big issues with licensing images is the need to track down the owner of the image in question and get a licensing agreement in writing. As much as I’d love to draft one for a client, I understand that the cost of hiring an attorney to write up the deal doesn’t always make sense.

Luckily for all of us, one group has come up with a licensing scheme that makes this process easy and standardized. The group is Creative Commons, creators of the Creative Commons License.

The Creative Commons organization:

They seek to balance between the copyright “maximalists” and “minimalists,” by recognizing rights in creative works while allowing others to use them for various purposes.You’ve probably all heard of Creative Commons, but may not have any idea what it actually is or does.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization whose mission was to create a standardized license agreement and legal infrastructure for the free licensing of creative works. They were formed in 2001 and have seen the number of CC-licensed pieces of media rise from one million in 2003 to 882 million in 2014. The uptake on this type of licensing has been nothing short of amazing.

They seek to find a balance between the copyright “maximalists” and “minimalists,” by recognizing rights in people’s creative works while allowing others to use them for various purposes.

The six types of Creative Commons licenses available:

Which type of license is used on a particular piece of media is dictated by the author. They vary the different types of uses that another person can do under the license. These six license types are:

#1 – Attribution (CC BY):

This one lets you do pretty much whatever you want with the original work, provided that there is some attribution to the original author.

This is good for music sampling and remixing of the original work.

#2 – Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA):

This license allows commercial use of the original work in whatever way they wish, as long as there is attribution of the original author and the new work is licensed under the same rules.

Again, this is good for sampling and remixing of an original work, but maybe not as good for those who want to claim stricter rights in the new work (like a game developer).

#3 – Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND):

This license allows commercial and noncommercial redistribution, but the original cannot be modified in any way and there must be attribution.

Good for bloggers (like myself) who need photos for blog posts and don’t need to modify the original images in any way.

#4 – Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC):

This is similar to the first (CC BY) license, where there is unlimited remixing and changing allowed, but there cannot be any commercial use. There must also be attribution of the original author.

Could be good for bloggers who are not making any money from their blogs. If you’ve got a referral link or are running a business connected to the blog, you may be overstepping the license terms.

#5 – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA):

Same as above, but requires that the new work be freely licensed under the same terms. If there is no need for rights in the new image, this could also be a viable option for noncommercial users.

#6 – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND):

This is a noncommercial version of the CC BY-ND license above. No commercial use, no modification allowed.

Again, this is usable by those who are not making money from the site they post it on, but it is the most restrictive of the Creative Commons license types.


Where do you find Creative Commons media?

I use a site called Photo Pin to source the images I use for the blog. However, the Creative Commons site itself contains a search engine that can find all types of media. You can choose whether or not you need commercial use of the work and if you need to modify or adapt it in any way. Check it out, and avoid those pesky Getty Images letters down the road!

Photo courtesy of Flikr users glenirah and stevensnodgrass via CC 2.0 License.

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Zachary Strebeck

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