Christina Purcell


When working on a project, presentation, or a blog you contribute to, everyone finds him or herself searching the Internet for media.  However, with all of this content out in the web, it is important to credit those whose work you use.  Using or altering someone’s media that is protected under copyright is punishable by law and can result in heft fines.  This has happened recently to people that don’t check with the licensing of pictures or music they use, and this chapter should help protect you against someone else using your work when you don’t want them to, or accidentally using someone else’s work.  There are resources available on the web now that make it easy to license your work under many different restrictions, and search engines that specifically look for licensed work.  Here I will explain three main resources, Creative Commons, Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons.

Creative Commons

Creative commons is a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that you can use to obtain a free copyright license from to let the public know how you will allow your media to be used.  It is used to promote the sharing of information, education and knowledge legally in a global format.  Millions of works are licensed under CC, and many reputable companies use CC such as whitehouse.gov, Al Jazeera, and Google.  Shown here is a shot of the Al Jazeera website explaining that they have licensed themselves under creative commons and everything must be attributed to them.

Licenses Available

There are six different licenses you can obtain from CC and they are described here in order of most lenient to most strict.

Attribution: Others can use, remix, and build upon your work as long as you get credit for original creation.

Attribution-ShareAlike:  Others can use, remix, and build upon your work as long as you get credit for the creation, and it is licensed under the exact same name.

Attribution-NoDerivs: Others can use your media as long as it is unchanged and you are given credit for it.

Attribution-NonCommercial:  Others can use, remix, and build upon your work as long as it is for non commercial purposes and you are given credit for it.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike:  Others can remix and build upon your work as long as it is for a non-commercial purpose and you are given credit for it.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: Others can only use your work if you are given full credit for it, it is for non commercial purposes and it is unchanged.

Creative Commons Searching

Creative Commons also has a link on their main page for you to explore works that are creative commons licensed.  You can either search for something you can use for commercial purposes, something you can modify, or both.  When you enter something on this page it will look in the databases of one of 13 search engines, depending on which one you choose.  Among these search engines are Wikimedia Commons and Flickr Commons (explained later).  This page makes it very clear that the results returned may not actually be CC licensed, and you should look into it further if you see the need to.

Flickr Commons

Flickr Commons is a community to share pictures between users online, specifically ones that have been licensed under Creative Commons.  The ease of use of Flickr Commons is fairly easy and returns a lot of results.  Here is a step-by-step guide of how you can search for works that will not get you sued for re-using.  I will be searching for Pomeranians.

  1. Type in your search query in the upper right hand corner.  You will see results, and now click the pull down menu at the upper left and select “The Commons.”  
  2. Although you have clicked “The Commons” you must still make sure the results have creative commons licenses.  Now click advanced search to the right of the pull down menu.
  3. At the bottom of the next page you must check the box to “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.”  
  4. Now when you look at a picture make sure that under the description there is a phrase saying something like “Some rights reserved.” If it says this then you know it is registered with a license that just needs to be understood before you do anything with it.
These pictures stating that they have “Some rights reserved” usually mean that you may share or remix the works.  To be sure, click on where it says “Some rights reserved” and you will be taken to the Creative Commons website explaining exactly what that specific license means.  Here is what was shown from one of my pictures of the Pomeranian.  It describes that I can add and share the work as long as I credit the original user.  

Wikimedia instructions

Wikimedia Commons is another search engine to find pictures that you are allowed to share and remix.  It is slightly more easy to use than Flickr in terms of how easy you can find works that are available to use, but it  does not have as many pictures in it’s databases yet as Flickr.  Here are the steps to Use Wikimedia Commons.

  1. On the homepage, enter your search in the search bar in the upper right hand corner.  I will search for Sleeping Bear Dunes.
  2. The search results will appear like this, and you just need to click on one you like. 
  3. Next the picture will be enlarged with some information below it, looking like this, under the heading Licensing.  Read this to determine what you are free to do and under what conditions you must follow.  


Compared to Google, these three search engines are much safer options to keep you from being on the wrong end of a legal battle, and after following along in this chapter you should be familiar with how to use them and not be scared away simply because you are more used to Google.  I recommend using all three of these options when searching for media, and briefly here I describe some simple advantages and disadvantages I find with using each one of their search engines.

Flickr Commons Positives:  A lot of users, connected with Yahoo

Flickr Commons Negatives: Many steps to get to specifically creative commons licensed photos


Wikimedia Commons Positives: Few steps to see how a picture is licensed, familiar layout to Wikipedia

Wikimedia Commons Negatives: Currently few pictures, must look for well known landmarks or people


Creative Commons Positives: Shows you many search engine options, including music search engines (Flickr and Wikimedia do not have music)

Creative Commons Negatives: Does not look in all search engines at once, you must know which one to look in


All in all, the idea of licensing your work is much more common now than it used to be and I believe that these three search engines will continue updating their sites and will continue to receive more content from users.  As they receive more content our ability to successfully search for appropriately licensed media will become easier.


Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org, this is the wikimedia site that I searched sleeping bear dunes on

Flickr, http://www.flickr.com, this is where I found pictures in the commons section of Flickr

Creative Commons, http://creativecommons.org/about, this is where I found information on who uses Creative Commons

Creative Commons, http://search.creativecommons.org/, this is the search page for creative commons

About the Author

Christina Purcell is a senior at the Ross School of Business.  She will be taking a sales position at Ford Motor Company next year after interning for them last summer in the Boston region.  She is currently a member of Delta Sigma Pi, Ross Marketing Club, and is very passionate about staying active while playing tennis and riding bikes.


To Google or not to Google? Copyright © 2013 by Christina Purcell. All Rights Reserved.