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Finding & Using Images, Audio, and Video

Tips and resources for finding "copyright friendly" multi-media materials. Contains many links to sites with free Creative Commons and Public Domain media.

About this guide

This guide will help you understand when you do and do not have permission to use multimedia you find on the web. It will also point you to numerous free websites that contain multimedia that you DO have permission to use. The citing multimedia page will help you give proper credit to the images, audio and video that you use.

Copyright Basics

The purpose of copyright law is to give protection, for a limited time, to authors of original works-both published and unpublished. These works include literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyright law is also designed to promote science and the arts by facilitating the dissemination of knowledge.  

The exclusive rights of a copyright owner, as outlined in the United States Code (title 17) are:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • In the case of sound recordings,* to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 121 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights.  One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use.”

Alternatives to Copyright

Copyright is granted to creators automatically, meaning that unless you have a specific reason to believe otherwise, you should assume that the multimedia you find is under copyright and you do not have permission to use it.

However, copyright is not the only way to manage original works. Creators may choose to make their work available with fewer restrictions than copyright by applying a Creative Commons license or releasing it to the public domain. Limited use of copyrighted material is also permitted under the Fair Use doctrine.

Alternatives are sometimes called "copyleft." For more information on copyright, public domain, Creative Commons, and Fair Use, please see our Copyright Guide which is listed below:

Fair Use

Fair Use is one means by which copyrighted works can be used without obtaining permission from the copyright holder. Fair Use is limited, but flexible, and is commonly used in educational settings.

Conducting a Fair Use analysis requires weighing four factors for each individual use, and seeing if, on balance the use is a fair one. Sometimes, the use is clear-cut. Other times, it's a judgment call, and two people analyzing the same situation can come up with different outcomes. Such is the nature of Fair Use.

The four factors are:

  • nature of the work - factual vs fictional
  • nature of the use - educational vs for-profit
  • amount of the work being used - small amount vs large amount
  • effect on the market - would widespread use have a negative effect on owner’s right to receive remuneration?

Each use is evaluated individually by doing a Fair Use test. Legally, there is no maximum number of pages nor percentage of the whole that determines Fair Use.

Creative Commons

The licenses below and their descriptions come from the About the Licenses page of Creative Commons.

Both the CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND licenses are not considered OER because they do not allow for derivative work. 

Public Domain

Public Domain Dedication


This icon indicates that the creator of the work chose to waive ALL rights to their work. Others may copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission or providing attribution. It is also symbolized with CC0 (Creative Commons, Zero rights reserved.)

Public Domain Mark

Public Domain Mark

This icon identifies works that are free of known restrictions under copyright law. For example, works may be in the public domain because their copyright has expired (see Duration tab), or because they were created by the federal government. Others may copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

Royalty Free

Royalty-free, or RF, refers to copyrighted media or intellectual property that does not require ongoing royalty or licensing fee payments; instead, you may pay a one-time fee in order to use the media multiple times. There may be a limit as to the number of times you can reuse the media. RF licenses are not exclusive, so others may purchase and use the same media as you. Some media might be labeled "royalty free" even though its one-time fee is $0.


Guide content based on the Finding and Using Media guide from the J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University & the Copyright & Creative Commons, Free Images and Music guide from the Brisbane Grammar School Libraries.