Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WotW: Search for Safe Images with Creative Commons

Images are the lifeblood of a blog. Without good pictures, it's difficult to keep readers engaged. But, how do you get good images for all those posts? Most bloggers whip open Google Images, type in a few search terms and save a picture to their blog. But is that image copyrighted? Copyright laws are one of those complex and tricky issues and it's difficult to understand which images are copyrighted and which are not on the Internet. When you find an image, do you have a right to use it? What happens if the owner sees it on your blog and you find yourself with a cease and desist order?

Of course, the chances of that happening are small, but why not stay on the safe side of things? A solution? Creative Commons, an organization committed to helping companies and individuals navigate the complex issues surrounding copyrighted material. Legal jargon aside, for all practical purposes it's a portal to find images that should keep you on the safe side of copyright laws.

To get started with Creative Commons, simply go to: I find myself using this service so much, especially as an educator trying to teach my students good web skills, that I bookmark it in my Symbaloo for regular use.

At first glance, Creative Commons is a stripped down search engine. Let's say you're trying to find a picture of clown fish. Simply type in the term clown fish into the search bar.

Now, you have some options. First, there are two check boxes under the search bar. These are important depending on what you want to do.

  • If you're just looking for an image to put in your blog post and you're not going to do anything to it, don't check anything. 
  • If you plan on changing the image somehow (editing it, adding text, etc), check the modify, adapt or build upon option.
    • Checking this box will limit your search to images that have been clearly designated for that purpose, but it will keep you legit.
  • If you want to use the image on a commercial site (your Etsy site or to promote a product), check this box.
Truthfully, most of the time you won't need to check any of the boxes, but I wanted to throw it out there just in case.

Now comes the tough decision – deciding which service to use to search. Technically, Creative Commons doesn't actually do any searching itself. When you type in a search term, Creative Commons taps into a number of search engines and automatically defines the parameters of your search to find only images that meet the specifications you set.

Which service you use honestly depends on what you're searching for. When it comes to images, the three I've found most useful are Flickr, Wikimedia Commons and Google Images, in that order.

But wait, you might be thinking, I already use Flickr and Google Images. Why add a middle man to the process? Remember, the whole purpose of Creative Commons is to narrow down the search results to only images that are safe to use. Sure, you can tweak the settings in Google Images or Flickr yourself, but it's a whole lot faster with Creative Commons.

For my search on clown fish, I'm going to choose Wikimedia Commons because they tend to have some of the clearest details on the copyright restrictions, or lack thereof, on images. So, I click Wikimedia Commons, type in clown fish and press enter.

I am now taken to the search results from Wikimedia Commons. 

Once I find the image I want, I can click on the link to go the page.  Here, I see an enlarged version of the image, as well as some options on the right. For blog use, the Use this file option is probably the best.

A dialog box will appear with a slew of options. The best one to cover all your bases is the biggest box at the bottom: HTML/BBCode. Simply copy and paste this code into your blog post and the image will appear with all the appropriate attribution. You may need to paste it into the HTML mode, depending on your blogging service. Also notice the pixel width. You can usually select different sizes to meet your needs.

One Other Note. At the bottom of the page, there is more information about the image. It's probably best to look here before grabbing the image because this explains what the image can be used for. This particular clown fish image gives you permission to share the image and modify it as long as you provide attribution to the author (which is found in the HTML code you copied above, and is just a good blogging practice to begin with) and that you allow others to use whatever modifications you make to the image in the same way.

Not all images have the same restrictions. In fact, you'll find many images that have no restrictions at all and you can go crazy.

This tutorial just went over how to use Creative Commons to search through Wikimedia Commons, but searching through Google Images and Flickr are fairly similar.

Also, Creative Commons is not just limited to images. You can also use it to search for information, videos, sound clips, music and other forms of media.

Hopefully you'll find this to be a useful service. Maybe you figure it's just too much work. But I know I always feel better about putting images on my site when I know I'm in the clear to use them. Happy searching!

1 comment:

Lorene (just Lu) said...

Umm, awesome! So awesome. I have no words to describe this awesomeness.