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Creative Commons and Pictures

Learn about Creative Commons, and the different licenses provided. These licenses make it easy for you to understand what content you can freely use, or not use.

We already learned about Public Domain, and the pictures available as part of Public Domain. While you will be able to find a huge amount of visual content that is available within Public Domain, there is another option called Creative Commons that you should be aware of. Unlike Public Domain, where content belongs to all mankind, the content within Creative Commons still belongs to the person who created it. For pictures such as camera photographs, any content classified as Creative Commons would still belong to the photographer or the entity that commissioned the photographer.

Before we learn further, let's understand what Creative Commons is. It's a license but it is also the name of a non-profit organization that has created several variations of easily understood, and free to use licenses. The organization itself is registered in Massachusetts, USA, but you can use their licensed content almost anywhere worldwide. Learn more by visiting the Creative Commons site.

So how do you know that a picture you want to use is available as part of the Creative Commons license? That's a great question. However, to understand the answer to that question, you first must understand that there are not one but multiple Creative Commons licenses! Some of these licenses allow you to use content commercially, and others don't. Some licenses of Creative Commons will not allow you to edit pictures while others will. And some content within Creative Commons is available for you to use commercially, and edit as required.

To learn more about attribution, explore our Attributing Creative Commons Pictures in your PowerPoint Slides page.

So let us now explore different Creative Commons licenses. There's a link from each of these licenses below to the specific license page on the Creative Commons site:

Attribution CC BY

This license allows you to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as you credit (attribute) the original creator. This is the most flexible and accommodating of all licenses offered.

More info on the Creative Commons site.



Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND

This license allows you to redistribute the content you create in both commercial and non-commercial ways, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit (attribution) to the original creator.

More info on the Creative Commons site.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build the original work non-commercially, as long as you credit (attribute) the original creator, and license your resultant new creation under the identical terms.

More info on the Creative Commons site.

Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon the original work even for commercial purposes, as long as you credit (attribute) the original creator and license your new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to "copyleft" free and open source software licenses. All new works based on the original work will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

More info on the Creative Commons site.

Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon the original work non-commercially, and although your new works must also acknowledge (attribute) the original creator and be non-commercial, you don't have to license your derivative works on the same terms.

More info on the Creative Commons site.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of Creative Common's six main licenses, only allowing you to download other's works and share them with others as long as you credit (attribute) the original creator, but you can't change the original work in any way or use it commercially.

More info on the Creative Commons site.

Whenever you use some content such as a picture, you will find information about which Creative Commons license the original content owner has permitted you to use his or her content as. And do remember that not every picture or other content available online is licensed as Creative Commons. You can only use the Creative Commons license terms for the content that is specified as part of Creative Commons.


Picture Basics: Creative Commons and Pictures (Glossary Page)