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Finding Freely Available Media Online

A guide to online images, audio, video and more that is free to use.

Misconceptions about Reuse

There are a number of misconceptions that many people have regarding the images, sounds, music, video and text that they find on the Internet. Here are some common misconceptions and responses to why you as an individual should be careful what you reuse from the Internet:

  • "I found it on the web so it must be in the public domain."
    Response: Just because something is available on someone's website or a company's website does not mean that you have the rights to reuse it elsewhere. If you can't find clear statements about the copyright of the item, you may be able to assume that it is copyrighted.
  • "The copyright owner couldn't possibly find out that I used their copyrighted content."
    Response: There are spiders that crawl the web actively looking for copyright infringements. Furthermore, some companies are specifically tasked with the purpose of tracking copyright infringements such as Copyspace, FairShare, etc.
  • "I cited where the item came from, so I can't be violating copyright."
    Response: Attribution doesn't constitute permission. If an item is copyrighted and you're using it for certain purposes, attributing the item to the original author does not necessarily justify your usage of the item.
  • "I'm not publishing the material, it's just on my website."
    Response: Putting something on the Internet can in some cases constitute publishing, therefore, you need to get permission before using others content there.
  • "My usage of this content constitutes "fair use."
    Response: Fair use is a defense, not an exception, so if a copyright owner contested your usage of their content, you'd have to go to court to straighten that out. There are a number of factors that would then be reviewed (*in court*) to determine if the use in fact was "fair use:"


    1. Purpose and character of use
    2. Nature of the copyrighted work
    3. Amount and sustainability of the portion used
    4. Effect of the use on the market

What's the best way to avoid having to struggle with the complex ideas of copyright? Use public domain and Creative Commons content!

Finding Multimedia in the Public Domain

The following table highlights some items that are currently in the public domain. For more information see Cornell University's Guide to Copyright.

Date of publication Conditions Copyright Term
Before 1923 None Public domain
1923 through 1977 Published without a copyright notice Public domain
1923 through 1963 Published with notice If the copyright was not renewed, then it is in the public domain. If the copyright was renewed, then 95 years after publication.
1964 through 1977 Published with notice 95 years after publication
1978 to 1 March 1989 Published without a copyright notice Public domain OR 70 years after the death of the author (plus many other restrictions) depending on whether or not the item was registered
1 March 1989 through 2002 Date of creation Depends on the date of creation
After 2002 None 70 years after the death of the author (plus many additional detailed restrictions)
Anytime Works prepared by employees of the U.S. government as part of their duties Public domain

Creative Commons

"Creative Commons develops, supports and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation." - From Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has developed free tools for creating copyright licenses. Content owners can define how their work can be reused and users can license items that match their usage of the work. Below is a listing of Creative Commons licenses, with their allowed use explained. For more information on each of these licenses, click on the type of license or the logo:

Type of License Logo Allowed Use
Attribution CC BY Distribute, remix, tweak and recreate (also commercially) as long as the creator is attributed.
Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA Distribute, remix, tweak and recreate (also commercially) as long as the creator is attributed AND whatever you create is also licensed under the same CC license.
Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND Redistribution for commercial and non-commercial purposes - cannot be modified, and the creator must be attributed.
Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC Distribute, remix, tweak and recreate NON-COMMERCIALLY as long as the creator is attributed.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA Distribute, remix, tweak and recreate NON-COMMERCIALLY as long as the creator is attributed AND whatever you create is also licensed under the same CC license.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND    Redistribution for NON-COMMERCIAL purposes - cannot be modified, and the creator must be attributed.

 

When licensing Creative Commons content, you may want to ask yourself (1) if you're using the item for commercial or non-commercial purposes, (2) are you changing the work in any way, and (3) does the item have a "ShareAlike" or "SA" license. IF the item has a ShareAlike license, you must ALSO license the work under the exact same license.