How To Use Creative Commons To Find Free Images

Many bloggers and people looking to create their own websites or social media pages will run into problems when they want to use imagery. 

How To Use Creative Commons To Find Free Images

The default position for most people is to use Google image search and find the photographs or pictures they want for their content, but this can be problematic when we take into account the restrictive nature of copyright. 

Creative Commons is a way to bypass that, providing anyone the authority to use other people’s imagery.

This guide we’ve created will outline the best way to use Creative Commons for free images and clear up any confusion you may have. 

What Is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) is an organization which allows people to share their work with others while retaining some control over how it is used.

Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig who wanted to make sure that everyone could access knowledge without having to pay for it. The organization has now grown to include many types of licenses.

There are different categories of licenses:


This license allows users to modify, add-on and redistribute the original work provided by the photographer, assuming that you attribute or provide credit to the original creator. 

However, it’s critical that you don’t imply or lead people to believe that the original creator has endorsed you to do this. 


Similar to attribution, you can add on, modify and redistribute the original creators work as long as you provide attribution to the original creator – but with ShareAlike, you must do so publishing under the ShareALike license. 

No Derivs 

Under this license, you must not modify or build on the original creation. In simpler terms, only the original copy must be used. 


This license is important to note if you are planning to use imagery for a business blog.

You can use the original creations and modify or build on them, but you cannot do so for the purposes of commercial use unless given specific authority by the original creator. 

An example of this is monetized YouTube channels. 

Noncommercial ShareALike

This type of license combines the rules of Non-Commercial and ShareALike.

In other words, you can modify and reuse the original imagery assuming that you do not do so for commercial purposes, you provide attribution to the original creator AND republish it under the same license. 

Noncommercial NoDerivs

This is by far the most restrictive type of license from Creative Commons. You can use the original creator’s work, but it must be exactly how it originally was and cannot be used for commercial purposes. 

Using A Creative Commons Search 

Any images that are available using Creative Commons licenses can be found using Wikimedia Commons, Flickr or via Google image search. 

If you choose to use Google images, you need to do the following: 

  • Go to Google images 
  • Use the tools bar and navigate to usage rights 
  • Use the suggestions to choose the correct licensing 

What you’ll notice is Google provides you with the following licensing options:

  • Labeled for reuse with modification 
  • Labeled for reuse 
  • Labeled for non-commercial reuse with modification 
  • Labeled for non-commercial reuse 

As with our above guide on licenses, you need to ensure that you select and use the correct one in the correct way. 

How To Provide Creative Commons Attribution 

Typically, the license choices require you to provide the original creator with attribution. There are a few steps to take this. 

Determine The License On The Image You Wish To Use

You will first want to determine which license you wish to use. This can be done by clicking on the image itself. If there is no text next to the image, then it’s likely that the image is licensed under CC0 (no restrictions).

If you’re using Flickr however, you will notice the license type on the bottom right-hand side. For example, you may see “some rights reserved”. 

Provide The Correct Credit 

Unless the original creator has stated otherwise, there are two main ways to do this. You can place it on a caption or on the image; “photograph by [creator]” if you have not modified or built upon the image.

If you have made changes however, you can place a “photograph edited from [source] originally created by [creator]”. 

It’s very important that you provide a link to the original somewhere. You can do this on the image itself or through your credit. 

What Are The Advantages To Creative Commons?

There are many advantages to using Creative Commons licenses. They allow people to share their work without having to worry about copyright issues. It also allows creators to make money from their works as well. 

The disadvantages include that they take time to set up and require some technical knowledge to understand them.

Additionally, the process may be a little complicated for some users to understand, and they may find themselves breaching the correct license stipulations. 

Can I Use Creative Commons Images And Make Money?

This will depend on the license. As long as the license does not explicitly say “not for commercial use” then you are within your rights to use the imagery on a monetized platform, as long as you provide attribution. 

How To Use Creative Commons To Find Free Images (1)

However, if you are intending to sell products based on the work of someone else, then you should seek permission from the owner of the work. 

What Happens If I Breach The License Requirements?

In most cases, you will receive a warning before being blocked from the site. However, if you continue to breach the terms after receiving multiple warnings, then you could lose access to the site completely. 

Depending on your chosen platform, you could find yourself with further complications, especially platforms like YouTube. 

In reality, it’s best just to check with the original creator if you are unsure of your requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Creative Commons Easy To Use?

Creative Commons is easy to use. All you need to do is click the button at the top of the page and select “search for CC images”. 

You’ll then be directed to OpenVerse which gives you the opportunity to find images using the search tool, in a library of over 600 million. 

Is Creative Commons Always Free?

No, Creative Commons is free to use but you must pay attention to the licensing requirements. 

For example, if you intend to use an image commercially, then you would need to purchase a commercial license. 

Alternatively, if you are only sharing the work online, then you can use the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This means that you can use the image freely, but you cannot make any money off of it. 

Do I Need A Copyright Clearance Certificate For Commercial Use?

Yes. In order to legally use copyrighted material commercially, you must obtain a copyright clearance certificate (CCC). 

You can get one from the Library of Congress website.

The Bottom Line

Creative Commons is a great way to source many images with fewer restrictions than other platforms. However, it’s important to remember that when you use creative commons images, you are doing so under the legal terms of the license. 

If you don’t want to follow these rules, then you risk losing access to the sites that host the images.

Katie Dawson