Creative Commons

How to Use Downloaded Photos Legally With Creative Commons Licenses?

Not sure if you can legally use photos downloaded from the internet? Fear of infringing someone else’s copyrights?

Learn how you can use downloaded Creative Commons Licensed (CC-Licensed) photos with peace of mind.

Over 2 billion CC-licensed photos and images exist and are available and ready for download from millions of websites. The majority of those works are hosted on content platforms that provide CC license options for their users.

Photographs are automatically protected by copyrights (C) even when they are first taken by the photographer’s camera.

“Copyright protection gives the creator of a work the right to control how the work is copied, distributed, displayed, and performed and whether new derivative works can be made. In general, if you use someone else’s copyright-protected work without permission, that is copyright infringement.”

Source: Here

This means if you or your company want to use somebody else’s photos for your personal or commercial purposes, you will need to contact the owner of those photos and ask their permission to grant you the rights to use their photos for your projects, and most likely you will need also to pay a certain amount of money if they agree to allow you using their photos.

The agreement between you and the owner of the photos would be put in some sort of copyright license agreement.

“A copyright license agreement is a legally enforceable contract that gives a licensee—the company or person interested in using your work—legal authorization to use your work for designated purposes, typically in exchange for payment.” 

Source: Here

That is how it works. 

Now imagine, in this digital era, how much time and money need to be spent and what documents to be provided if we should sign such copyright license agreements every time we want to use photos and images for our next projects. It would be unthinkable!

This is where Creative Commons Licenses come into play.

What are Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools in the form of copyright licenses. 

Creative Commons Licenses (known as CC-Licenses) are not copyrights. They are simply copyright licenses just like the traditional copyright license agreement but in a more practical and seamless way for distributing and sharing some of the rights of the copyrights.

From the copyright owner’s perspective, Creative Commons licenses provide a standardised way to grant the public permission to use their creative work under copyright law by defining what can the re-users do with their copyrighted material.

From the re-user’s perspective, the presence of a Creative Commons license on a copyrighted work answers the question, “What can I do with this work?”

Through CC licenses copyright owners can offer a limited usage of “some of their rights” to the public while reserving other rights. 

As you may know, Copyrights (C) are “All rights reserved”. 

The phrase “All Rights Reserved” is often used by copyright owners to indicate that they reserve all of the rights granted to them under the law, which are the right to reproduce, distribute, display, and make adaptations or modifications.

When copyright expires, the work becomes a public domain (CC0), and the copyright holder can no longer stop others from engaging in those activities under copyright, except for moral rights reserved to the author or creator in some jurisdictions.

Creative Commons-Licenses (CC), on the other hand, allow a photo owner, as the copyrights holder, to share “some of the rights” with other people to use their photos.

Creative Commons licenses offer the copyright owner a spectrum of choices between retaining all rights (copyrights) and relinquishing all rights (public domain), an approach that is called “Some Rights Reserved.”

Thus, Copyrights holder who wants to reserve all of their rights under copyright law should not use Creative Commons licenses.

The Rise of Social Media & Photo Stock Providers

Most of the photos and artworks available on the internet are either copyrighted (C), Creative Commons-Licensed (CC), or public domain (CC0).

With the rise of social media over the last two decades, there is a growing need for “sharing” content through social media, including photos, videos, and other forms of art and literary works.

At the same time, there is also a growing need for creative workers and content creators to obtain photos, videos and other graphic works for their projects. 

This need is answered by the increasing number of photo stock companies on the internet who offer and provide free as well as premium or paid photos, videos, and other graphic works to be re-used by the public.

Mainstream Search Engine like Google Search also offers an Image Search feature where user can find and download Copyrighted, public domain or Creative Common-Licensed photos. However, before downloading, you need to be very careful with your intention or purpose for using the image and check what you can or cannot do with it.

The below screenshot image shows how to find CC-Licensed photos on Google Search

Creative Commons Google Image Search
  • Firstly, type in the Google Image Search column the keyword of the image you want to search and then click the Search icon on the right
  • From the “All” tab menu below the search bar click the “Images” tab next to it
  • Click “Tools” on the right side of the menu
  • In “Usage Rights” select “Creative Commons licenses”
  • Google Search will then display the CC-Licensed images and photos according to the keyword you typed in. 

The Types of Creative Commons Licenses

The limitation of what the public or the re-users can do with the CC-Licensed photos will be indicated by the types of CC-Licenses offered by the copyright owners.

Following are the types of CC-Licenses and Public Domain as referred to on the Creative Commons website:

1. CC BY 

This license allows re-users to redistribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. The license allows for commercial use.

CC BY includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the copyright holder

2. CC BY-SA

This license allows re-users to re-distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. The license allows for commercial use. If you remix, adapt or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under the same terms.

CC BY-SA includes the following elements:

 BY – Credit must be given to the copyright holder.

 SA – Adaptations must be shared under the same terms

3. CC BY-NC

This license allows re-users to redistribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. 

It includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the copyright holder
NC  – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted

4. CC BY-ND

This license allows re-users to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, and only so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. The license allows for commercial use. 

CC BY-ND includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the copyright holder
ND  – No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted

5. CC BY-NC-SA

This license allows re-users to redistribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. If you remix, adapt or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under the same terms. 

CC BY-NC-SA includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the copyright holder
NC  – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted
SA  – Adaptations must be shared under the same terms

6. CC BY-NC-ND

This license allows re-users to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes, and only so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. 

CC BY-NC-ND includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the copyright holder
NC  – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted
ND  – No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted

7. CC0 (aka CC Zero) or Public Domain

This license allows creators to give up their copyright and put their works into the worldwide public domain. CC0 allows re-users to redistribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, with no conditions.

How to Check CC-Licensed Photos in Google Search

Now let’s go back to our earlier attempt to download CC-Licensed Photos from Google Search. And before doing that, we want to check the CC-License of the photo.

Creative Commons Google Image Search

For example, this is the photo that we want to download:

If you look below the title of the image, there is a clickable link saying “License details”.  Click that link and it will take you to the following page:

Creative Commons Attribution Page

Now, from the above page, you will see that the photo that we want to download is a CC-BY License.

That means you are allowed to redistribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder. The license also allows for commercial use.

However, you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

This is an example of how you will re-use the photo:

Creative Commons

“Beautiful White Tulip” By Retro Lenses, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Below the photo, first, we must mention the title of the original work which is “Beautiful White Tulip” as you may find on the website where you have downloaded the image.

This title will link to the page where the photo file is located. In this case, it is linked to a Common Wikimedia Commons page.

Secondly, we attribute the creator or the copyright holder of this photo which is “Retro Lenses“.If possible and available, you could link it to the creator’s page.

And lastly, we should tell under which CC license the photo has been shared. In this case “CC BY 4.0

If we have modified the image, like cropping the image from its original size, we must also indicate that change after mentioning the CC license. For example “Beautiful White Tulip By Retro Lenses, licensed under CC BY 4.0, “cropped from the original”.

There you go. We have properly attributed the photo to the copyright holder as his due.

How to Mark Your Photo with CC-License?

If you have a photo on your website and you want to mark it with CC-License so other people can also re-use your photo with limited rights of your choice, all you need to do is to add a CC-License link below your photo. 

Let us use the same “Beautiful White Tulip” photo above as an example and let’s pretend that we are the owner of that photo.

We need to provide the information about the title, the author, and the CC-License Notice that applies.

“Beautiful White Tulip” By Retro Lenses, licensed under CC BY 4.0

We can easily add a CC license notice to your website by visiting the CC license chooser [https://creativecommons.org/choose/]. 

At the chooser, simply answer a few questions, fill in the fields you need, and receive an already formatted HTML code.

1.     In the License Features section answer the two important questions with your selected option

            – 1st Question: Allow adaptations of your work to be shared?

                        Yes / No / Yes, as long as others share alike

            – 2nd Question: Allow Commercial uses of your work?

                        Yes / No

Creative Commons Licenses Selector

2. As you click the radio button option in the License Features section, you will see that the Selected License section displays the corresponding CC-License symbols according to your answers made in the License Features section. Every time you make changes in your answers the CC-License changes accordingly.

3. If you also look at the Have a web page? section, you will have the HTML format code that you can copy and use as a link for the “licensed under CC…” below your photo above.

That’s how easy to mark your photo with CC-License.

Words of warning: CC-License (CC) and Public Domain License (CC0) cannot be revoked

This means once you apply a CC license to your material, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright, even if you later stop distributing it.

So be very careful to decide before marking your work with a CC-License or CC0-License.

Where can I find CC-License Photos for my project?

Google Image Search is undoubtedly the biggest source to find CC-License photos or images. However, there are also great sources that host CC-License and Public Domain photos that you can download for free.

Besides Google Image Search, we can also find CC-License photos for free on Flickr, WikiMedia, Openverse, Pexels, Pixabay, UnSplash, etc.

If you’re interested in further searching here’s a link [https://sheridancollege.libguides.com/findingimages/ccimages] that lists sources for finding CC-License photos. 

Is the problem really solved?

In an ideal world, Creative Commons Licenses should be the perfect solution both for a photographer (copyright owner) and the re-users of CC-Licensed photos and images. 

Photographer needs to share freely some of his works to the world with CC-Licenses so more people will acknowledge his or her capabilities and get more followers. And at the same time, re-users in other fields of creative industry really need some free and affordable sources of CC-Licensed images for their projects.

People now have access to use great photos and images without having to infringe on other people’s copyrights.

Unfortunately, in real-world cases, many people do not understand the different limitations of rights when using CC-Licensed photos. They think if the photo is already CC-Licensed and available for download to the public, then they can do anything with the photo without truly paying attention to the details of what they can or cannot do with the photo.

Unless one day they receive a cease-and-desist letter and are asked to pay a big amount of money, they would never realise how serious the problem they run into.

Takeaways

In this digital era, people are more connected and need each other’s support to advance in life. Sharing creative works such as photos, images, and videos, are very desirable for the spreading of information and the creation of more derivative works that add more value to the original ones.

Creative Commons Licenses provide a free, simple, and standardised way to grant copyright permissions for creative works such as photos and images and ensure proper attribution to where it is due.

Through CC-Licenses, the copyright owner allows others to copy, redistribute, and make use of their creative works. This helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge, creativity and information with the world. The lack of public understanding about the limited use of Creative Common Licenses has led to unnecessary copyright infringement cases that are costly for the common people. There should be more educative approaches to tackle this problem.

Featured Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay
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