Free to use media for your projects

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Imagine you are putting together the slides for a presentation.  Knowing that it is much better to use the slides as dynamic visual aids and not load them with text, you are looking for a picture to help get your point across.  You search the internet, and find the perfect image that you download and paste into your slides.  You may have just violated copyright.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of ‘original works of authorship.’ Copyright protection gives the authors certain exclusive rights to make copies, distribute, make derivatives, perform and display their work.  It lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.  Even if the author chooses to share the work in a public space, like the internet, that work is still protected by copyright.

Does that mean you have to make all the images you want to use in your presentation yourself?  No.  There are collections of media that are in the public domain, i.e., not protected by copyright because the protection has expired or because the author has released the material.  Many authors and artists are also issuing their work with Creative Commons (CC) licensing. This is a license scheme designed to let authors and artists communicate what uses of their works are considered free or permitted without special permissions.

How do you find images that are fee to use? There are several databases being created that specifically gather together material that is CC licensed or in the public domain.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Wikimedia Commons:  An online database of freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.
  • Pixabay:  Images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0 and can be downloaded, modified, distributed, and used them royalty-free.
  • Openclipart:  “Each artist at Openclipart releases all rights to the images they share at Openclipart.” Images are free to use for any purpose, commercial and noncommercial.
Tub Wanders – Copyright – Karl Liebknecht Strasse, Berlin –

You can find more databases on the Libraries’ Copyright Guide.  And, many media platforms and search engines give you the option of filtering your results based on the CC license the author chose.  For instance, Flickr users can clearly post their ownership of materials or apply a license to allow others to use the material.

For more information on copyright and the public domain, see the Libraries’ Copyright Guide.

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