There’s been an ongoing discussion in the comments to the post on Fair Use and Copyright, and it seemed like a good time to explore some of the resources readily available that can supply images for use in blog posts or books without fear of infringing someone else’s copyright.
The most common explanation I hear from people “borrowing” images (and inside my own head: hey, in the past I didn’t understand this as well as I do now!) are:
- As long as I give credit, it’s okay
- They should be happy I’m advertising for them
- You really think they care about somebody small like me?
These all fall under the heading of “self-soothing rationalizations” and as such, they help you feel better, even if you’re not entirely sure that what you are doing is okay.
Of course, the good old golden rule isn’t a bad guideline either: would you want someone “borrowing” your content without your knowledge, for some use you know nothing of? I wouldn’t, so I try not to do it to other people. Simple.
The fact is that we can get oodles of images that are available with simple guidelines that are easy to follow. But before we get to the sources, I think it would be good if we looked at one of the innovations that makes this image-sharing possible.
Creative Commons is a nonprofit company that makes it easier for people to share their work, to build on the work of others, and to still maintain their copyright. It assigns a range of licensing conditions that range from very loose to very strict. There’s a lot of flexibility in the licensing.
Instead of each artist or creator having to think up which rights they want to keep and which they are willing to license, and under what conditions, Creative Commons establishes a uniform licensing that can be used and understood by anyone. This allows the creator of the work the freedom to assign the license she wants it to carry, so others can share it, remix it, or use it commercially.
Although there are 6 main classifications of licenses, today we’re only concerned with the loosest, and easiest to conform to: Attribution. Here’s what it says about this license on the Creative Commons website:
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, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.
This means that any photos or other images you find that are assigned this Creative Commons license, are free for you to use as long as you give the artist credit.
You can see the complete License Deed that describes this license at Creative Commons Attribution page.
Armed with an understanding of licensing, we’re ready to head to those resources.
This photo gallery of over 392,500 images is owned by Getty Images, the leading provider of digital media worldwide. Stock.xchang is a place where photographers and artists can share their creations under the Creative Commons Attribution license we talked about above. That means that you are free to use any photos here as long as you credit them.
Here’s how they advertise the site:
Share your photos with fellow designers! SXC is a friendly community of photography addicts who generously offer their works to those who need them free of charge. If you have some nice photos that you’d like to share with others, join us! Not only it feels great to share, you will also get a huge exposure for your work!
Stock.xchng has a handy search box, so I entered “terrier” to see what would come up. There was lots to choose from. You’ll notice in the screen shot there’s a separate row of images at the top of the screen. These are actually from another of Getty Images companies, iStockphoto.com, one of the best web stock sites. Besides photos iStockphoto has animations, vector illustrations, drawings, and other media you can search.
If you click one of the iStockphoto images you will leave Stock.xchng and go to iStockphoto, which is a pay site. Instead, check out the selection below. Over 200 photos of terriers, with a handy enlarger that shows the photo your mouse is hovering over. Neat.
I picked this Schnauzer, who reminded me of Presto, a great schnauzer we lived with for many years. Clicking gets you a detail page with a download link, a license link and, over on the right under Photo Details, a link to the photographer’s page.
Here we find out the photographer is TJ Nuckolls from Irvine, California. I usually copy this name right off the page and use it after I download the photo by appending it to the filename. This helps me remember who to credit when I use it later.
Here’s how I would credit this photo if I used it in a blog post:
Stock.xchng / TJNuckolls.
In fact, most the photos I use here are from Stock.xchang. And this same form of attribution can be used whenever you use a Creative Commons licensed image.
Pretty much everyone knows Flickr. Owned by Yahoo, Flickr says they have over 4 billion images online, and who am I to doubt them? Am I going to count to see if they’re lying and only have 3.75 billion?
To harness the power of Flickr for our uses, you’ll need to navigate to the Advanced Search screen, which gives you tons of search options, all of which you can ignore except one: Creative Commons. I’ll show you how I use this powerful search.
Click on the learn more… link under Creative Commons, and the whole Creative Commons (CC) page will open, with our good friend the Attribution License, right at the top. But what you want is the See more link at the bottom right. This will take you to another search screen, this one confined solely to CC Attribution images only. You now have every CC Attribution image on Flickr available for keyword search, and Flickr has reported that it has 16,167,811 photos with a CC Attribute license. That should keep you busy, yes?
A search on “terrier” brought up 6,730 matches. (Notice that cute Boston Terrier in front?) Many of these will be amateur shots you may not want to use, but I think you can see how powerful this CC Attribution search can be.
Google Image Search
Using our familiarity with CC Attribution licensing, we can head over to the king of search, Google. Every Google search screen has an Image link. This will bring you to the Google Image search, but we can’t use this screen, the link you want is the one labeled Advanced Search.
This opens a screen that offers lots of search options and, at the bottom, a chance to set the kind of license you are looking for on the images search will return. I picked the “labeled for reuse” option from a drop down and received 223 images to choose from.
I wasn’t that impressed with Google’s results but, looking at the detail screen for a photo of a cute toy fox terrier, I noticed Google had pulled the image from Wikimedia Commons.
A little more investigation revealed that Wikimedia Commons is the media repository for the Wikimedia Foundation—the umbrella group for Wikipedia—and is run as a volunteer effort. Here’s the statement on their Welcome page:
Unlike traditional media repositories, Wikimedia Commons is free. Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as the source and the authors are credited and as long as users release their copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The Wikimedia Commons database itself and the texts in it are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
Bingo. Wikimedia Commons currently has 6,182,493 files stored on their servers, all available for reuse with Attribution. My search for “terrier” turned up 1,199 hits, although I noticed a number of them were of a Terrier Missile, not dogs.
At the bottom of each photo’s detail page you’ll find a complete technical profile of the photo as well as the Creative Commons Attribution licensing.
In a few minutes I had managed to find over 8,300 photos of terriers, all free to use as I liked as long as I gave the proper credit, which seems like the least I could do. And all perfectly legal and respectful of the owner’s copyright.