Where to find free and legal content online

Since I started this blog, or even started thinking about starting this blog, I’ve had many people ask me about where to find free content that they can use on their blogs and websites without having to worry about legal liability. This is a legitimate concern – I know several people who have received angry emails from copyright owners – and even threats of being sued – after they used a copyrighted image that they found on a website. You’ve got to be careful. That’s what this post is all about. It’s the post you’ve been waiting for! And it’s a mammoth one!

Below I’ve listed just some of the places that you can find openly licensed content – images, photographs, music, sound files, video files and text – that you can use legally and for free. If you missed my post explaining what Creative Commons licences are, make sure you track back and read it first because you’ll need that information to properly understand this post.

Images cc label


Flickr is a photo-sharing website that gives people the option to share their uploaded images under a Creative Commons licence. It then allows users to search through photos for only those images they can use legally and for free. I love it. I source nearly all of the images I use on this site and that I share on Facebook from Flickr. Here’s how you can do it too –

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Step one: On the Flickr homepage you can enter your search term in the box on the top right. For illustration, I’ve entered ‘tree’.

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Step two: You will be taken to an image results page. There, you can select from a drop-down menu to only search Creative Commons licensed photos.

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Step three: Your search results will be updated, and you can click through to the photos you like. Here’s one that I’ve selected. You can see the attribution information at the bottom left of the image and the licence information (with a link through to the full terms) at the bottom right. Don’t forget to follow the attribution requirements and other licence requirements when you use the image.

Google Image Search

You can also find CC-licensed images using a basic Google search.

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Step one: Enter your search term and select the images tab.


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Step two: Click on the little cog wheel symbol on the right hand side of the page. A drop-down list will appear. Select ‘Advanced search’.

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Step three: This will take you through to another page with more search options. Go to the ‘usage rights’ option and select the licence terms that you need.

Hint: You can also do this with a normal Google search to find CC-licensed text.

Images - pd

There are also some websites that provide access to free, public domain content. ‘Public domain’ generally means that the content is not protected by copyright, usually because the copyright term has expired. This means that you can use the content for free however you like.

Pixabay – public domain images (mostly photographs)

Open Clip Art – free, public domain clip art files

Music - cc

There are some absolutely wonderful legal sources of music and sound files online. Here’s just a sample:

ccMixter is a community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples licensed under Creative Commons licences. For example, this track is called “Late Nigtht Tribe” by earritation and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Licence (CC BY-NC). It’s ambient music with a bit of a Massive Attack vibe. It’s pretty cool.

Jamendo – this is a music website where you can stream and download music files for free. Everything is licensed under Creative Commons licences for non-commercial use. It is truly comprehensive too – Jamendo currently features over 35,000 independent artists and is the largest royalty-free music catalogue in the world. Jamendo also offers affordable options for commercial use – what it calls its “Jamendo PRO licence” – for people who want to use the music in advertising, TV, films or other commercial multimedia projects.

Soundcloud – this is a social sound platform where people can record and upload sounds and share them privately with friends or publicly to blogs, websites and other social media. It’s a little bit like Spotify for sounds. Not everything on Soundcloud is licensed under Creative Commons but, like Flickr, you can search for CC-licensed content. Soundcloud provide a handy little image file showing you how to this, which I’ve reproduced here:



These are just three of the larger sources for openly licensed music and sound files. You can find more CC music resources listed here.

Video CC

Video files can be CC-licensed too!

Vimeo allows you to search for licensed content, in two easy steps : –

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Step one: Enter your search term and run the search. Then click on the ‘Advanced Filters’ menu option on the right.

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Step two: Select the licence terms you need.  It’s that easy!

Vimeo also runs a music store where you can also filter music tracks by licence terms.


YouTube, the most popular video sharing website, also has a Creative Commons filter. Below, I’ve searched for a healthy kale recipe to demonstrate how to find CC licensed videos:

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.23.56 AMStep one: Enter search term. Click on the ‘Filters’ drop down menu.

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Step two: Select the Creative Commons option. Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to allow you to search by licence terms, so you will need to check the CC-licensed results yourself to make sure you’re allowed the make the uses you want (such as commercial uses or modifications).

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So for example, I’ve clicked through to a kale salad recipe. You can see here that this is licensed under CC BY.

ABC open archives

For the history buffs, in 2012 the ABC released some of its archival news footage under CC licences. The short video files are available here. They include clips such as an ABC reporter explaining how ATMs work upon their introduction to Australia, Jean Shrimpton at the Melbourne Cup and a news report on the release of Lindy Chamberlain from prison upon the discovery of new evidence relating to her missing baby girl.

Other CC content

Did you know that all of the content on Wikipedia is either in the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike (CC BY SA) licence? Additionally, the Wikimedia Commons is a database of freely useable media files (images, sounds and video) that are public domain or licensed under Creative Commons.

I hope you enjoy exploring all these wonderful sources of free and legal content! What a treasure trove!

What is Creative Commons?

A few weeks ago, I covered copyright licences and what it means to give permission to others to use your work. Today I’m looking at a very particular and very important type of licence – the Creative Commons licence. (Sometimes called the “CC licence” for short).

Creative Commons licences give permission in advance to the world at large. This is significant. It means that whenever you see a work with the Creative Commons symbol on it, which looks like this: –


you know that you have permission to use the work for free even if you don’t know the copyright owner and have never spoken to them in your life.

That’s pretty cool.

In fact, Creative Commons was the brainchild of a group of people in the United States who were sick of the restrictive permissions-based culture around copyright and wanted a way to indicate to others that they were happy to share their stuff.

Creative Commons licences are not without their restrictions, however. There are four different terms that can apply to CC licences; one is mandatory and the other three are optional at the election of the copyright owner.

The first term, which applies to all CC licences, is the attribution term. In short-hand it is written as “BY” and graphically it is represented like this:


It requires that whenever someone uses the work, they must attribute the creator. The user must provide the creator’s name and a link back to where they originally sourced the work from. (The creator’s name need not be their actual, full name. If the creator is identified online by a nickname or pseudonym, then it is sufficient to give credit using that name). The user must also provide a link back to the full text of the Creative Commons licence. This might sound like a lot of information to provide, but in the world of hyperlinks it is remarkably easy to do. *You can see how I’ve done it on all the photos featured on this blog. At the end of this post, and in the ‘links’ page, I’ve included a link to a fact sheet which describes in more detail how to properly give attribution to any CC licensed works that you use.

Then there are three optional terms: –

Non-Commercial. In short-hand: “NC”. Graphically:


As the name suggests, this term provides that the work may only be used non-commercially. In other words, you cannot make money from using the licensed work. When people are first experimenting with Creative Commons they tend to gravitate towards this term because it seems nice and safe. But beware. “Non-commercial” is interpreted narrowly, so this term is stricter than it first appears. Do you have advertising or sponsorship on your blog? That’s a commercial use then, and you cannot use a NC licensed picture.

No Derivatives. In short-hand: “ND”. Graphically:


This term basically means that you can only use the licensed work as is. No modifications. No remixing, mash-ups, resizing, adapting, or adding quotes over the licensed image. As is.

Share Alike. Short-hand: “SA”. Graphically:


This term indicates a desire to keep the work free and open. It provides that you may use the work however you like (including by making modifications and adaptations) but that you must license the resulting work under an open licence as well. The impact of this term depends on what you do with the work. If you write an e-book and include a picture licensed under CC BY SA, you will be able to include a notice that the image is licensed under Creative Commons (and so remains open) but that the rest of the book is all rights reserved. However, if you remix or merge a CC BY SA picture with a picture of your own to form a composite work, you will need to licence that new work under CC BY SA as well in order to fulfill the terms of the licence.

The terms can be combined in different ways to form six separate CC licences. The most open licence is CC BY, which allows any use so long as the creator is attributed. At the more restrictive end are CC BY NC ND and CC BY NC SA. The only terms that are incompatible are “no derivatives” and “share alike”. Here are all the licences in full, graphically:

Creative commonsI’m doing a full series of posts on Creative Commons. This is 1 of 4. Coming up: where to find CC licensed content that you can use for free; how to apply a CC licence to your own work; and why I think CC is rad.

You can also find some easy-to-use fact sheets on the Creative Commons website, like these:

I’ll also link to these in the ‘Links’ tab at the top of the page.

[Disclaimer: I have previously worked as a research assistant for Creative Commons Australia. My partner, Nic Suzor, is the current legal lead of Creative Commons Australia.]

Copyright licences


Licences are an important part of copyright law. “Licence” is basically the legal term for copyright permission. When you grant a licence to someone you are granting them permission to use your copyright work in a particular way.

Licences can be limited in a number of different ways. They can be limited by the type of exclusive rightFor example, you may grant someone permission to copy your work, but not to perform it publicly. Licences can be limited by purpose, so for example I might grant someone a licence to use my work on their blog but not in their conference seminars. They can be limited by timeso you might grant a permission that lasts for one year only then expires. And they can be limited geographicallyso you might grant a licence for use in Australia only, for example.

Licences can have terms attached, such as: “I give you permission to use my photograph so long as you always include a link back to my blog underneath the photograph”. Licences can be granted for free or in exchange for something (usually money). Money paid for a licence is called a “licence fee“.

These limitations are useful for you to know both in your role as potential licensor (the person granting permission) and as potential licensee (the person receiving permission). As licensor, you may wish to place certain limits on the licence you grant to someone in order to maximise the licensing value of your copyright work. As licensee you will want to check that the limits on the licence granted to you do not prevent you from doing what you want or need to do with the copyright work. For example, if you’d like to post someone else’s picture on your blog or in your book, it’s not helpful to have a licence that expires after 6 months.

There are different types of licences, and it’s important to be aware of them because they have different impacts on your rights:

Non Exclusive Licences

These are the most common form of licence. “Non-exclusive” means that the same kind of licence can be given to different people at the same time. For example, I can grant Lisa a non-exclusive licence to post my photograph on her blog, and I can also grant Kristen a non-exclusive licence to post the same photo on her blog.

Non-exclusive licences can be given verbally; they do not need to be written down. However, it is always a good idea to have a written record of anything you agree on with someone else.

Exclusive licence

Exclusive licences are a bit trickier and you should keep an eye out for them. An exclusive licence means that the right is granted exclusively to the licensee. The tricky part is that even the copyright owner is excluded from exercising the right granted for the period of time of the licence and within the jurisdiction of the licence. So if I grant Natasha an exclusive licence to publicly perform my song in Brisbane for a period of 3 months, that means that I cannot perform my own song in Brisbane for the next 3 months and I cannot give anyone else permission to perform the song in Brisbane during that period.

Exclusive licences often arise in publishing contracts – the publisher may take an exclusive licence to publish the book and a non-exclusive licence to copy and adapt the book. This means that only that publisher can publish the book. The author can reproduce the book and give other people permission to reproduce it, but cannot contract with another publisher to also publish the book.

Because exclusive licences are much more restrictive than non-exclusive licences they cannot be given verbally. The law says that exclusive licences must be in writing and signed by the licensor (the person giving the licence).

sole licence

These are exactly the same as exclusive licences, with one small but important difference. Under sole licences, the copyright owner retains the right to do the act covered by the sole licence. So if I grant someone a sole licence to copy my book, they can copy it and I can copy it but noone else can. I cannot grant anyone else a licence to copy my book.

Phew! I know that’s a lot to take in, but it’s important stuff. Licences are highly relevant to your interactions and transactions online. I’ll be highlighting exactly how in future posts.