Skip to main content

Open Access

Scholarly Communication Librarian

Finding and Using Works in the Public Domain and Works with Creative Commons Licenses

Very briefly, works in the public domain can be used by others without violating any existing copyright protections. As the U.S. Copyright Office explains: “A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.”

Works released with a Creative Commons license are still copyrighted materials, however they have been released with a copyright license that allows certain types of re-use without seeking the express permission of the copyright holder. The 6 different Creative Commons licenses signal the allowable terms of reuse. Any reuse of a work release under a Creative Commons requires attribution of the source and author.

NOTE: Whether you use works that are in the public domain or protected by copyright, it is always advisable to provide proper attribution for the work.

Images

  • Bing Image Search
    • Search results can be limited by clicking on “License” in the menu below the search box and selecting “Public Domain”
  • British Library on Flickr
    • Collection of public domain images from the British Library’s collection.
  • British Museum Collection Online
    • The majority of the 1.9 million object images are available for anyone to use for free under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.
  • Compfight
    • Image search can be limited to those released with a CC license.
  • Creative Commons Search
    • Search for free content in the public domain and under Creative Commons licenses.
  • Europeana
    • Images from European libraries, archives, museums and other institutions. Search results can be filtered by copyright status including by specific CC license.
  • FLICKR
    • Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license, and you can browse or search through content under each type of license.
  • Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Library
    • Online access to over 100,000 images from the Folger Shakespeare Library, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, and art. All images are released with a CC BY-SA license.
  • Free Media Resources/Photography
    • Extensive list on Wikimedia Commons listing freely licensed and public domain images on the web.
  • Getty Open Content Program
    • Images available through this program can be found by searching on the Getty Search Gateway and then filtering the results by checking the box next to "Open Content Images", an option in the Highlights section of the filters in the left menu. All images found through this program should be credited as "Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program" (see Getty Open Content Credits).
  • Google Image Search
    • Use the search “Tools” tab to limit your search by “Usage Rights”. Though the options under Usage Rights do not use the exact language of Creative Commons licenses, you can limit your searches to items that allow reuse or modification.
  • Library of Congress - Prints and Photographs
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • Since 2017 the Met has made images of artworks it believes to be in the public domain available for unrestricted reuse and at no cost. Works in the public domain will be tagged by an Open Access (OA) icon on the Met’s search interface.
  • NASA
  • National Gallery of Art
    • The NGA Images collection is a repository of digital images of the collections of the National Gallery of Art and includes over 51,000 open access digital images that the Gallery believes are in the public domain and free of other known restrictions. Use the “More Search Options” link under the Search box to limit your search to the open access content.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    • Images in the NOAA Photo Library are in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted. There is no fee for downloading any images on the site. Educational use is encouraged as the primary goal of the NOAA Photo Library is to help all understand our oceans and atmosphere.
  • Paris Musées
    • Online collection portal to thousands of artworks from 14 City of Paris museums. Over 150,000 images are identified as part of the public domain and available for download and usage.
  • Pixabay
    • Copyright free images and videos. All content is released under the Pixabay license, which makes the content safe to use without asking permission or giving credit to the artist, even for commercial purposes.
  • Public Domain Project
    • Thousands of audio, image, and video files in the public domain from the collection of the Pond5 stock footage company.
  • Public Domain Review Collections
    • A curated collections of images, books, audio and film. Browse by medium, time period, tag, or source.
  • Public Domain Sherpa
    • List of resources for public domain images, with notes and tips about access and usage.
  • Rijksmuseum
    • Images are searchable and downloadable – the item details (acquisition and rights section) will indicate whether the work is in the public domain.
  • Smithsonian Open Access
    • Download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images -- both 2D and 3D digital items -- from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.
  • Unsplash
    • All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Image Gallery
    • Photos in this Image Gallery are available free of charge and are copyright-free, public domain, images unless otherwise indicated.
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images
    • Photos and images from the U.S. Government, most of which are in the public domain and free to use.
  • Wellcome Collection Images
    • Freely licensed digital books, artworks, photos and images of historical library materials and museum objects.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    • Access to media -- including images, sounds and videos -- that has been uploaded by users, mostly for use on Wikipedia. Most of the content is available under some sort of Creative Commons license and licensing information is clearly provided for each item.

Videos

  • Free Media Resources/Video
    • Extensive list on Wikimedia Commons listing freely licensed and public domain videos on the web.
  • Internet Archive Stock Footage
    • A collection of stock footage clips submitted by Internet Archive users. These clips are designed to be used in other videos. All clips in this collection have a Creative Commons license.
  • NASA
    • NASA content - images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format - generally are not copyrighted.
  • National Park Service B-Roll Video Index
    • Online resource designed to provide free, public domain, downloadable video clips for multimedia use.
  • Prelinger Archives
    • Items from this archive that are available on the Internet Archive are in the public domain.
  • Public Domain Project
    • Thousands of audio, image, and video files in the public domain from the collection of the Pond5 stock footage company.
  • Videvo
    • Free stock video footage.
  • Vimeo
    • Browse all the videos on Vimeo that have a Creative Commons license applied to them.
  • YouTube
    • Filter your YouTube search results by Creative Commons to see videos released with a CC license.

Audio

  • CCMixter
    • A community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples licensed under Creative Commons licenses. Music on the site is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You are free to download and sample from music on this site and share the results with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Some songs might have certain restrictions, depending on their specific licenses. Each submission is marked clearly with the license that applies to it.
  • Freesound
    • Collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds.
  • Musopen
    • Provides recordings, sheet music, and textbooks without copyright restrictions.
  • NASA on SoundCloud
    • Collection of NASA recordings from historic spaceflights and current missions. All material is generally not copyrighted.
  • Public Domain Project
    • Thousands of audio, image, and video files in the public domain from the collection of the Pond5 stock footage company.