Creating with Creative Commons: Finding Free Media for Your Projects

June 24, 2020 | Ted

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A question that often comes up in a number of our online classes is, "Where can I find images and other digital media to use in my own projects?"

The Internet is full of sites to download content, but it is important to know who owns the rights to the works and whether it is okay for you to use them in your own creation.

This is where Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organization, steps in to help!


What Is Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons group developed a new type of copyright licenses that allow one to easily distribute their work for others to use. Under a Creative Commons license, people can use, modify, and/or share content providing they follow the stipulated rules.

There are six different licenses that vary by the level of permissions granted. Some of the stricter forms are non-commercial use only and no modifications allowed.

In the least restrictive license, you simply provide an attribution credit for the work you're using to the creator.

It’s important to note that media with CC licenses are different from those in the public domain, which are typically items where copyright has expired.

A creator may also decide to release a work into the public domain directly using the "CC Zero" license, which effectively waives any copyright. I’ll take a closer look at the differences between each of the licenses and how you can apply them to your own works in my next post.

If you’re interested in learning more now, here are a few resources.


Where Can I Find Creative Commons Media?

As mentioned earlier, digital media with a CC license can be used in your own projects, such as web pages, podcasts, graphic design, digital art or music.

Browsing these materials can also serve as inspiration for new creative ideas or you may want to try your hand at remixing an existing work.

Here are some great sources to find images, sound, and video that you are free to use and pair well with many of the free and open source design software tools recommended in a previous post.

  • Google Images and Flickr are often the first places people go to quickly find an image, but did you know that you can limit your search to CC licensed items? First, enter your search term then filter the results in Flickr by selecting one of the drop-down options under "Any license", or in Google by clicking Tools then selecting one of the drop-down options under "Usage rights".
  • Wikimedia Commons is a collection of over 60,000,000 downloadable image, sound and video files. This is usually our first stop when looking for a photos or images for a blog post.
  • Pexels is a collection of free stock photos. The content here is licensed under CC Zero or Pexel’s own license, both of which allow free use, including modification, with no attribution required. The images here tend toward more staged photos, perfect for websites, posters and other graphic design projects.
  • Filmmusic and Free Music Archive are large collections of music of a variety of genres that are great for use in videos, podcasts, or any other project that requires background music. 
  • Freesound is an eclectic collection of sound effects. 
  • Vimeo Creative Commons section collects and categorizes videos into sections you can easily browse for each of the type of CC license.


And last but not least, the Toronto Public Library Digital Archive features many images that are in the public domain and are free to use. You can easily see if the image is public domain under the Rights and Licenses heading for each record. There are some great historical photos from Toronto in the collection, such as the photo below of the Children's Room inside Riverdale Branch taken in 1930.

Clearly this was well before physical distancing.


What are you waiting for? Start exploring the free media out there, or sign up for one of our free online classes to learn more about how to edit images, video and more!