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Finding and Using Images: Creative Commons (CC) Licensing

Introduction to Creative Commons

Creative Commons let creators allow the free use, sharing, and re-mixing of their original work by others. Traditional ("All Rights Reserved") copyright creates restricts how works may be used, shared, and adapted. Creative Commons licenses provide a tool for content creators to optimize the sharing and use of their work.

"What is Creative Commons?" by WikimediaFoundation/Victor Grigas is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses

The elements of the Creative Commons licenses indicate what a user can and cannot do with a CC licensed image. Look for the license attached to the image itself or in the image's description. Usually, the license information will link back to information about the license on the Creative Commons website, which provides more detailed information about the terms of each CC license.  

The following links provide more information on Creative Commons licensing. 

CC License Components

Each Creative Commons license consists of three parts:

  • Legal Code
  • Commons Deed (aka Human Readable version)
  • Machine Readable

Creative Commons licensed works usually link to the Commons Deed (the human readable version), but the deed portion is not technically a license itself and is not part of the legal code.

In other words, anyone who makes use of Creative Commons licensed works is accountable for following the terms in the Legal Code.   

"Three 'Layers' Of Licenses" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Citing CC Licensed Images

Properly citing CC licensed work is required by the terms of the individual licenses. Additionally, the creator of the work has kindly shared their work without requiring a user to seek permission and without charging a fee, so giving credit is simply the right thing to do. The following credit line format can help create credit lines that follow best practices:

"title of work" by <insert author name> is licensed under <insert license>

Use the TASL acronym to help remember which elements to include and link. 


See the following source for more information from Creative Commons about how to cite CC licensed works. 

Some Rights Reserved

Image from Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0