Using Photos & Data Under a Creative Commons License

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Below is a creative commons Image from Flickr. In the Caption to the photo is the kind of attribution that a Creative Commons Attribution License calls for when using an image like this from Flickr:

Don McCullough
Some Rights Reserved
Sunset and silhouette

When you choose to use a photo or data available under a Creative Commons’ License, you’re giving other people information about their rights to use your copyrighted materials. This means that you should understand what the different licenses mean

Notice that the information on these sites provides Open Data available through licenses that allow people to create something new or useful

Important Terms

Attribution – This means to publicly give credit to the person or people who created a work, to identify them, and to identify the work itself.

Share-Alike – Requires that copies or adaptions of a work be released under the same licensing terms as the original

Derivatives – A work-based originally upon a different source, and is potentially imitative of that original source.

Noncommercial – A licensing requirement defining whether or not content being licensed can be used in a commercial or non-commercial manner.

Creative Commons License Types

Creative Commons is not a replacement for Copyright, but rather defines a number of licensing agreements under which a copyrighted work can be released to the world. Someone who might use the material covered under one of these licenses isn’t required to actually sign a release stating that they will abide by the terms of the license, but for them to use the copyrighted materials released under one of these licenses, they should follow its terms as described in the license.

Here are the licenses available on the Creative Commons site and some examples of where they are used.

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution

Example:CartoDB – Enables easy creation of Web-based maps.

From the home page of Carto DB
From the home page of Carto DB

License Terms: “You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give you credit.”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution-ShareAlike

Example:Freedom Defined – Helps in the creation of buttons and Logos for to identify free cultural works and licenses

Free Cultural Works Logo

License Terms: “You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution-NoDerivs

Example:UniProt – Aimed at being a “comprehensive, high-quality and freely accessible resource of protein sequence and functional information.”


License Terms: “You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution-NonCommercial

CC BY-NC – Comics focusing on Technology freely sharable on the Web.


License Terms: “You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work – and derivative works based upon it – but for noncommercial purposes only”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Example:MITOpenCourseware – Information about courses offered at MIT.

MIT Open Courseware
MIT Open Courseware

License Terms: “This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Example:Into the Fire – A film free to share and present in non-commercial settings.

Into the Fire
Into the Fire

License Terms: “This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.”

Human-Readable Summary of License: Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Example:Europeanaz – Featuring photos, places, and items from Europe.


License Terms: “You, the copyright holder, waive your interest in your work and place the work as completely as possible in the public domain so others may freely exploit and use the work without restriction under copyright or database law.”

Creative Commons Examples

Creative Commons images can be searched for at Flickr, Wikimedia Commons.

If you would like to contribute an image to the Wikimedia Commons project, you can do so here

How to Attribute Creative Commons Photos:

1. Find an image you’d like to use from a source like Flickr, like the image at the top of this post.

2. Copy important information about the image for use in your attribution; name of image, name of image rights holder, link to image, link to License, link to type of license used (note that I included all of that information in the caption for the image).

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34 thoughts on “Using Photos & Data Under a Creative Commons License”

  1. Extremely useful, Bill. We recently had to settle out of court on an infringement case, so it’s definitely important (and potentially money-saving) for anyone generating content to know this stuff!

  2. Thanks, Geoff,

    There are a lot of small steps that you need to take to provide attribution for an image, but you have lots of choices of great images to choose from. It does help to know these steps and to treat them as if you businesses life depended upon them.

  3. Very useful stuff. I actually just set up a Flickr account a few days ago and had trouble figuring out what all the different attributions meant, their site was no help figuring it out either.

  4. I have heard a lot about “creative common” while writing for other blog but today I understand the real meaning of it. Earlier for me it was just reference the source of image.(Provide appropriate credit)

  5. Nice Topic.It’s very interesting and useful topic.Thanks for sharing.I have heard a lot about “creative common” while writing for other blog but today I understand the real meaning of it.out what all the different attributions meant, their site was no help figuring it out either.

  6. Thank you, Gideon. I’ve linked to a number of creative commons images and had troubles deciding how best to provide attribution – but providing a lot of it seems to work, and it’s worth the cost of being able to use a really nice image.

  7. It’s important for people to understand that as soon as you press the shutter you own a copyrighted image. The same goes for everyone else. Unless you press the shutter, someone else owns the rights to the image. Found on the web doesn’t make a photo free to use — unless stated.

    I agree Creative Commons is a good place to find images. I’m a photographer and I still use it all the time for my marketing blogs.

    Thanks for sharing the info. People need to understand what they are getting into.


  8. Thank you, Rosh,

    I agree – Understanding the terms that you are agreeing to use an image under is important – I take a lot of the photos I use online, but sometimes browsing though the Flickr creative commons images can reveal some interesting images.

  9. Love the creative commons! Frankly, I’m more likely to use and attribute a CC photo than I am to request permission to use a reserved one by a long shot. And it’s not like reserving an image really keeps it from being abused any better than a no commercial license.

  10. The Common Creative Attributes is very helpful for me as I published many blogs with images taken by Common Creative image store.

  11. I am definitely thankful that people are willing to allow their photos to be used in Creative Commons. And it works in a couple of ways – I get a great photo to add to a pertinent article, and they get a link back to their photos, gaining some exposure!

  12. Hi James,

    I agree. I just added a couple of photos to this site from Creative Commons, and I thought they were great images, that I was very much unlikely to capture on my own.

  13. Copyright law gets heavy very quickly. Of course, you could just be sleazy and take random images from Google Images and hope for the best. For smaller websites it appears to work just fine.

    Thankfully, smaller websites have your post to go to in order to figure out how to properly give credit where it’s due.


  14. Hi Matthew,

    It’s not that difficult to make sure you collect the right information, and link to the right things to make sure that you’re giving attribution to the owner of the photos that you are using. Hopefully I’ve set this post up in a way that makes it easy to find for people who might be searching for that information.

  15. Is it possible to upload photos under license through mobile phones. I have alot of photos but question is that these photos are under license or not how to differentiate???

  16. Hi Zahid,

    Whether someone is using a mobile or a desktop computer to use an image under a creative commons license shouldn’t matter. The licenses don’t distinguish based upon the type of device.

  17. I learned a lot from this. Thank you for your post. I edit and design images right now so it’s really great that I was able to read your article.

  18. Hi Leo,

    You’re welcome. I tend to add images to pages, and having the ability to search through Flickr creative commons images means I don’t have to shoot a photo myself, which can be convenient.

  19. Bill,
    How do you provide attribution for images that you incorporate inside a video? Do you need to provide attribution for photos that were purchased for commercial use and are used inside videos?

  20. Very useful info Bill! I recently just started my first blog and ran into the problem of not knowing how to properly credit creative commons pictures. This article cleared up a few things for me.

  21. Hi Doug,

    The post was about how to provide attribution under Creative Commons Licenses. If you purchased images that are included in videos there may not be a need to provide attribution – that probably depends upon the terms of your purchase.

  22. Ignorantly I copied and used an image on my site without attribution and it got me in hot water. Your article was very helpful in assisting me in correcting my foolish mistake. Thanks a lot Bill.

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