Open copyright: How to find images, music and audio

Have you heard of openly copyrighted materials and wondered if they are something you can use? This post provides a basic introduction to what open copyright is, and what photography, music and other audio resources are available to you.

The organization Creative Commons (CC) offers copyright licenses with simple, easy-to-understand rights. Media with Creative Commons copyrights might be available for free, unrestricted commercial or non-commercial use, or free for use with some restrictions.  In general, all CC-licensed materials will require attribution — meaning you must credit the creator and link back to their original work or website.

CC licenses can be applied to music, photographs, writing, audio pieces, physical items and more! Many are available online for free, unrestricted use. Let’s take a look at a few sites where you can easily locate materials for your use.


Don’t have the resources to create images or hire a photographer? Openly licensed photographs available online can fill in the gaps. There are many sites to explore, like the Open Clipart library, Pixabay or Wikimedia Commons. Here we’ll focus on one of the most popular — Flickr.


Flickr allows users to choose from a wide range of copyright statements for their work. When viewing your uploaded photos, there is a rights statement below the upload date below the photo on the right-hand side.

It offers the following options:


The licenses Public Domain Work, Public Domain Dedication (CC0), Attribution or Attribution-NonCommercial offer the simplest and least restrictive license for public media use. When searching for images to use, Flickr gives you an option to limit pictures to those with specific use or licenses.

  1. Enter your search term in the search box
  2. Use the drop down ‘Any license’ menu on the left side of search results.
  3. Choose one of the following:
    1. All creative commons
    2. Commercial use & mods allowed
    3. No known copyright restrictions
    4. U.S. Government works
  4. For All creative commons options, be sure to verify the picture you want to use allows for your use (generally Non-commercial use and modification).
  5. You will want pictures that allow for modification – remember that something seemingly as insignificant as cropping or re-sizing counts as modification.
  6. Remember to attribute and link to original or artist.


Do you need music for a piece or an event? To ensure you have the correct permission, you can find music that is openly licensed. A great website to start with is the Free Music Archive. You can browse by genre or curated collection. You can search by artist, song title or album. Once you have search results, you can filter by mood, genre, duration, instrumental, BPM and Creative Commons license type.

There are many more sites where you can find openly licensed music. In fact, there are several lists of sites available.


Freesound and Sound Bible are two sites with freely available sound effects. The Internet Archive contains a range of audio, from podcasts, digitized 78rpm records, live concerts and much, much more.

These are really just a sample of the resources out there available to you under CC licenses or otherwise openly licensed. Explore and share!

Jane Gilvin is a Data & Search Strategist at NPR.