Using Images with Creative Commons licenses for your website


The web may have been made for text, but in recent years it’s been overrun by images. From photostreams to infographics, images are everywhere, and your clients, readers, and customers expect to see pictures on your site.

If you must have pictures, where will you get them? Unless you’re an expert photographer, or have the money to hire one, you probably don’t have good options close at hand. And, while there are great photographs on the Internet, if you chose one without knowing its copyright status you can find yourself the recipient of a scarily-worded threat from a rights holder who spends all day tracking down small fish like you.

But, if you need images, not lawsuits, you’re in luck, because Creative Commons, a non-profit started more than a decade ago, has already created a system that allows “content creators”—this incudes photographers—to freely grant others to use their work on the web.

When someone uploads their work to the web, they can choose to use a Creative Common license to protect their claim to creating the image without denying others to the right to use or modify it. Thankfully, the legal language is hidden from view, but the rules are simple. One can choose whether or not others can modify their work, and, which is more important for you, whether one can use their work commercially. All Creative Commons licenses require that you attribute the work to the creator, but you don’t need to pay licensing fees or worry about angry emails demanding payment.

Major image search sites, like Google and Flickr, allow use to narrow your search results to images with Creative Commons licenses, so you won’t waste your time coveting images that are controlled by stock photo agencies like Getty or Corbis. With a bit of precaution, you can keep your website flush with interesting images, and free of the worry that you’ll have to take them down when someone finds out what you’ve done with them.

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Photo by Percita