Taking the Mystery Out of Creative Commons Licensing

by Social Media

Finding the right image for your content can be challenging enough without having to worry about licensing. Whenever you find an image (or any content) online, there’s a good chance that it either has a license which forbids you to use it, or it has no license at all. What most people don’t know is if you didn’t ask for permission before using the image, it’s illegal to use it if either of these two scenarios applies.

Just because the image is in a place where it is easy to copy (like Google search), it doesn’t mean you can use it without permission. To avoid any issue, the best thing to do is use a stock image or look for an image which has a Creative Commons license. Confused by Creative Commons licensing? Thanks to a great infographic from Neil Patel at Quicksprout and a crash course, Creative Commons licensing is no longer a mystery.

What is Creative Commons?

  • Creative Commons licensing was created as a free, standardized way for creators to grant someone else permission to share, use, or build upon a work they created.
  • Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright, but work alongside copyright laws so creators can allow certain uses of their work.
  • Creative Commons licenses let creators change default copyright protection terms from “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” By changing copyright terms to “some rights reserved,” the people who use these works don’t have to worry about copyright infringement.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of licenses:


  1. CC0: While technically not a CC license, CC0 notation will accompany some images, which means they are in the public domain. You are free to use these in any way you wish without attribution.
  2. CC BY: This license allows you to use the image for whatever purpose you want, but you have to attribute it. If you change the image, you can then change the license to whatever you want.
  3. CC BY-SA: Again, you can use the image however you like as long as you provide credit. The difference is that any edited image will retain this same license, which isn’t a big deal for our use.
  4. CC BY-ND: You can use these pictures on two conditions. First, you must provide attribution, and second, you must not edit or alter the image. This can be useful, but not always.
  5. CC BY-NC: The NC stands for “Non-Commercial”, which means it can’t be used on a blog post that you might profit from. I really hope you’re trying to make money from your blog, which means you can’t use pictures with this license.
  6. CC BY-NC-SA: This is a non-commercial license—avoid it.
  7. CC BY-NC-ND: Again, this is a non-commercial license—avoid it.

In essence, you will want to use images with CC BY, CC BY-SA or CC BY-ND licensing.  A great place to start searching for images covered by Creative Commons licensing is the organization’s site or the Creative Commons section of Flickr.

Are there alternatives to Creative Commons images?

There are a number of sites that provide public domain images you can use any way you wish, without attribution (giving credit to the creator). Public domain refers to material that is ‘publicly available’ and not covered by intellectual property or copyright, although some photos need a model or property release if used commercially. These images are also free to use. Pixabay and Public Domain Pictures are two of the better known public domain sites. Don’t be surprised if you are unable to find an image with high quality that hasn’t been used by thousands of others.

Another alternative is to use a “royalty free” stock image from a site like Shutterstock. “Royalty free” means you are not required to pay a royalty each time you use an image, although you may have to pay a one-time fee for the image license.

How do I give attribution to the creator of the image?

If you want to use a higher quality image without the hassle of licensing issues, ideally you should use a free image covered by a Creative Commons license. To credit image creators properly, you need to include the image title, author, source, and license.

This information is usually placed in one of two places:  under the image before the blog copy – which is the preferred method, under the blog post. Most images covered by Creative Commons licensing require attribution.

So now that you understand Creative Commons licensing, what are some of your favorite places to find images? Please share your answer in the comments below.