What is Creative Commons and How Do Image Licenses Work

What is Creative Commons and How Do Image Licenses Work

Free images and graphics are great for web designers and bloggers, but are they really free? How do we know which images or other creative assets can or cannot be used? Just as important, how are we allowed to use them? In this article we’ll remove the “legalese” to help you understand the Creative Commons licenses for images and other creative assets.

What is Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that started in 2001 and has released several copyright-licenses (known as Creative Commons, or CC, licenses) to help creatives provide work that can legally be shared and used by others. Creative Commons is a US-based organization, but the license is intended to be global.

The Creative Commons licenses allow the creators to specify rights they retain or waive. The creators still retain the copyright. Rather than “all rights reserved” or “some rights reserved” management systems, the reuse and commercial license is already specified.

This is good for both the copyright owners and those looking to license a creative work. It removes the contact and negotiation process every time we want to use an image in our work, such as blog posts, pages, layouts, and child themes and allows us to use images legally, without worry of violating a copyright.

It also allows companies to host creative works under the CC licenses on their websites, making it easy for creators to provide their work and for users to search and download many of the files they need from a single website.

Creative Commons Licenses

All of the Creative Commons licenses grant baseline rights. This includes the right to use the work without modification for non-commercial usage and that creators get credit for their work. Certain CC licenses allow for modification or other usage rights, allowing the creators (licensors) to grant additional rights.

The licenses include the legal version (which can only be read by lawyers and law geeks), a human-readable version (not legal binding, but can be read by us normal people), and a machine-readable version (for when they finally take over).

The licensor answers a few questions (using the License Chooser) that will determine the type of license they will allow. The 6 main licenses include:

Attribution – Anyone can copy, distribute, display, and modify the work, but they must give the licensor credit.

AttributionShareAlike – Anyone can distribute modified works, but they must provide the same license as the original work.

AttributionNoDerivs – Anyone can copy, distribute, and display exact copies of the work with no changes.

AttributionNonCommercial – This allows anyone to copy, distribute, and display the work, and modify the work for non-commercial usage.

AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike – Anyone can copy, distribute, and display work for non-commercial use as long as they provide the same license as the original work.

AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs – Anyone can copy, distribute, and display exact copies of the work with no changes for non-commercial use.

There are a few others such as:

Public Domain – Includes several tools and options.

CC0 (CC Zero) – Doesn’t require attribution (my personal favorite).

Public Domain Mark – Any web user can mark a creative work as being in the public domain.

What to Look For

Creative Commons licensed images can be found across the Internet in places such as Flickr, Jamendo, Pexels, spinxpress, Wikimedia Commons, and many others. Others use a similar license. Unsplash has a license similar to CC0, but doesn’t include the right to use Unsplash photos to create a competing service.

Before using an image from a service from these or similar websites, check the license agreement. This is usually found on a license page or on the FAQ page. Some include this information on the image, as a popup, or within a message bar. It’s usually easy to find.

Finding CC Licensed images with Google

One of the easiest ways to find them is by a Google search. Search for images in Google and then click Tools. A new menu will appear with an option labeled Usage Rights. Click this to see your options. Here you can filter by reuse, reuse with modification, noncommercial reuse with modification, or noncommercial reuse. Be sure to confirm the license before using the image.

When Images and Graphic Assets Are Not Free

Most CC-licensed images and graphics assets are available for free, but there are some licensors that charge for initial access, such as by the download or by subscription. Once the access has been paid for, the CC-licensed work can be used according to the CC license agreement without further charge.

It’s also possible to charge for a license outside of the work’s standard license. For example, if a photo is licensed for noncommercial use, it might be possible to purchase a commercial license. In this case you may need to contact the licensor or the website hosting the photo or other licensed asset.

How to Provide Attribution

Attribution must include the copyright notice, the creator’s name (or username, screen name, or user ID), the image’s title (if it has one), and the specific CC license it’s under. If it’s a derivative you’ll need to mention that too.

An example might look like this:

Mad Scientist Web Developer by David Blackmon is licensed under CC 2.0.

For featured images the attribution is usually placed at the bottom of the post. Images within the post are usually placed under the image.

Ending Thoughts

There are lots of images out there that can be used within our creative work, but we have to understand what is free to use and how to use it. Creative Commons licenses make that task easy. Understanding and following those licenses ensures that we don’t break any copyright laws and the creators get the attribution they deserve while we get lots of images and graphics to use in our work. CC licensing is win/win for everyone.

Your turn! Do you use Creative Commons or other licenses for you images? Let us know in the comments.

The images in this article we taken from Unsplash.com and use their own version of CC), which does not require attribution.

Randy Brown

Randy A Brown is a professional writer specializing in WordPress, eCommerce, and business development. He loves helping the WordPress community by teaching readers how to improve their websites and businesses. His specialties include product reviews, plugin and theme roundups, in-depth tutorials, website design, industry news, and interviews. When he's not writing about WordPress he's probably reading, writing fiction, or playing guitar.