If you’re a journalist, blogger, or any other type of written content producer, you have likely found yourself hunting for images to use in your publications. It is important when using stock imagery that you make sure the images are licensed for your use. Simply performing a Google image search and grabbing the first file you find might be easy, but you face the risk of stealing someone else’s non-freely licensed work – which not only can be considered unethical, but can also damage your reputation.
We have previously written about several general-purpose image search websites. In this article, I’m going to introduce you to seven websites where you can specifically find public domain and Creative Commons images that are free for you to use.
Clker is a resource for public domain clip art with both vector and bitmap images available for download. It is especially good for icons and symbols. One of Clker’s standout features is that it lets you edit any SVG image in a browser-based drawing program. You can use the visual editor or modify the raw SVG source code, which is an easy way to change the colors of elements, as no “paint bucket” tool exists.
2. Open Clip Art Library
While you can find some Open Clip Art Library (OCAL) images on Clker, you must go to the OCAL site to find the rest. You can also install the OCAL to your local machine, making a large portion of the library available offline. Downloadable archives are available from OCAL’s FTP server and, if you’re running Linux, from your package repositories. Note that the offline collection hasn’t been updated since 2010, so there are many more images on the website.
You’ll find a wide variety of clip art in the OCAL; the site doesn’t censor images, but it does ask that uploaders mark any potentially offensive images as “Not Safe for Work” (NSFW). In the future, the OCAL will support user requests, so you can tell artists if you want art on a specific theme or topic.
3. Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons has over 15 million free image, sound, and other media files. You can browse by topic-based categories – such as animalia, flags, mathematics, and medicine – or by location, type (images, sounds, or videos), author, license, or source. All images are licensed either with one of several Creative Commons licenses, the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), or a public domain license.
4. Flickr Creative Commons
A little-known fact about Flickr is that it has a Creative Commons (CC) section. Over 200 million user-uploaded photos and graphics are licensed under Creative Commons; most of them use the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs and Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licenses, but you’ll find a sizeable chunk of images under other CC licenses too. You can browse the images by license and recency, or you can click on “See more” under a particular license type to go to a search page.
MorgueFile is a collection of free, high-resolution photos that you can use for personal or commercial purposes. Before users upload images to morgueFile, they must agree to the term: “You are uploading your own images, not a photo of a photo or someone else’s work.” This prevents the site from ending up like Imgur, a popular image sharing site that hosts mostly unoriginal work.
All images on morgueFile are released under the morgueFile license, which specifies that users are free to remix the work, use it for commercial purposes, and use it without attribution.
Despite the spammy-sounding domain name, FreeStockPhotos.biz is an excellent resource for both stock photos and clip art. Each item is licensed individually, so you are expected to scroll down on an image’s page to view its license agreement.
Don’t get distracted by the images labeled “Sponsored Image from Shutterstock”; these ones will just redirect you to the Shutterstock website, which asks you to sign up for a paid subscription before downloading.
7. Creative Commons Search
Creative Commons Search is an interface to search engines on various websites that host free media, including the OCAL, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Google Images, Fotopedia, and Pixabay. When you use CC Search, CC licensing filters will be automatically applied so that only CC images will turn up in your search results. I find this especially useful for searching Google Images without manually setting the licensing filters, which can be tedious to do from Google’s own search interface.
CC Search also allows you to search for audio and video files on select sites.
For clip art, check out Clker and the OCAL. If you’re more interested in finding a photo, visit Flickr’s Creative Commons section or morgueFile. You can find both clip art and photography at Wikimedia Commons and FreeStockPhotos.biz.
Where do you go to find images for your content? Do you generally use freely licensed images?