Perennial Favorites: Using Creative Commons Like a Pro

You don’t have to be a pro photographer to include beautiful images with your posts. If you’re always taking blurry photos of your own hand, Creative Commons to the rescue!

Miss Manners will be the first to tell you that when someone gives you a gift, the proper response is a warm, enthusiastic, “thank you!” in writing. Did you know that when you accept the “gift” of a Creative Commons-licensed work such as a photo or illustration for use in your web projects, Miss Manners would endorse that same, warm, enthusiastic “thank you!” in the form of proper sourcing and attribution? Being a good citizen on the web means demonstrating proper behavior, at all events. Today, we’re going to share the wonder that is Creative Commons and your responsibilities for sourcing and attributing any material you may download there.

Creative Commons can be a goldmine of high-quality, free images, music, and media that you can download to use in your projects and even modify for your personal use — provided you select works with the appropriate license and attribute the source correctly.

An example nearby

We recently revamped, a site dedicated to helping users learn how to create their blog or website, inject their personal style, share content via social media, and a lot more. As part of revamping the content, we also changed the design, more closely aligning the overall look with, but with an edginess we like to call a “pinch of punk.”

How did we achieve our aesthetic? Properly-attributed images — free for use under Creative Commons — were a big help. Let’s look at an example. Here’s the image that graces the top of Get Going Fast, a checklist for power users who are setting up a new site. It’s a tight close up of a wristwatch, with an orange and blue slash of color:


Now, scroll down to the very bottom of the page, and you’ll see we’ve properly attributed the original photo to Navins, sourced it with the original link to its home on Flickr and listed the Creative Commons license under which Navins makes the photo available:

Header image based on “Titan Fast Track” by Navins, CC-BY-2.0.

Here’s the original photo by Navins:

CC-BY-2.0 is a Creative Commons license that allows users to “remix” or alter a work, creating what’s known as a derivative work. There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses, some of which prohibit use for commercial purposes and some of which prohibit derivative works or “remixing.” In a nutshell, here’s what the six licenses allow:

  • Attribution: you can remix images and use them commercially, as long as you credit the original. This is the loosest license.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike: you can remix images and use them commercially, as long as you give your new version the same license as the original. (If you often use images from Wikipedia, this is the license they use.)
  • Attribution-NoDerivs: you can use an image for any purpose, as long as it’s unchanged and credited.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial: you can remix images, must credit them, and can’t use them commercially.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: you can remix images, but can’t use the commercially and must give the new version the same license as the original.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: you can download and share the image but can’t remix, must credit it, and can’t use it commercially. This is the most restrictive license.

It’s very important to ensure that you understand the different license types and the requirements of each. The good news is that each license is written in plain language, making it easy to tell precisely what you’re allowed to do with any material it covers. (Note: many individual bloggers also give their work Creative Commons licenses, as do people who post images on sites like Flickr, so be sure to take a look before snagging images from other sites.)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

In your next post on your blog, illustrate it with media from Creative Commons. Search Creative Commons, for an image, illustration, or video. Carefully note the type of license under which the material is made available be sure to attribute the source. Share your post in the comments!

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  1. I signed up for blogging 201. I wanted to go on the link I got by email, but it requires 2 step authorization to be done. My problem is that I do not have a cell phone. Thus, how can I now get on that page?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good. I had the same problem; and the international version of my mobile was apparently too much for the system. I DO WISH all the Internet organizations in the world would get over thinking that everyone has a smart device: there are an awful lot of us who neither need nor want one. [grump grump]

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Two-step authentication can also be done via text message — you still need a cell phone, but a smartphone/data plan isn’t necessary. We’d actually recommend activate two-step authentication for any other services you use that offer it, like DropBox or Facebook.


  2. The daily prompts aren’t coming up in my reader the last few days. I think it’s since the redesign :/ how do I fix this?


    1. It’s nice if the reader doesn’t have to do anything to view the attribution. We usually put them in the caption, but you can also include them at the bottom of your post.


      1. I usually put them so that if someone puts the cursor over the image the attribution shows up (only if the image is published from other web site) and hold the caption in reserve for descriptions. However, if I copy the image (copied and uploaded from other site to my blog), I prefer to put the attribution and the license (CC) in the caption. The image is now in my blog, but it isn’t mine. I think that, in this case, it is very important to recognize more clearly the attribution.


  3. Thanks for this, I write commercially and sometimes struggle to find the right images sources for my clients when they don’t have any of their own images – so this explanation of which can and can’t be used is very helpful


  4. I didn’t even know about the direct link to Creative Commons, nor all the permutations of the licensing. I usually use my own images, go through Wikipedia, or try to find images through Google Images–and I am very careful with correctly sourcing, if I do decide to use someone else’s image. All my uses are noncommercial, but, that said, the very last thing I want to do is use an artist’s work if s/he doesn’t want it used. This is so very helpful; thank you, Krista!