Top Sources for Creative Commons Content

Do you conduct research on the Web? Would you like to know which sites and organizations allow you to use, edit and reproduce their information? If so, read on to learn about Creative Commons and some of the top sources that provide open access to online content.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organization that was established in 2001. Its mission was to find a way to perpetuate intellectual property-sharing on the Web. The organization has devised specialty licenses that work alongside copyrights. In addition, their site provides a platform for numerous open access works. Creative Commons licenses allow institutions, educators, writers, media developers, photographers, graphic designers and other artistic individuals to generously offer their work to others.

creative commons open content

How to Access and Use Creative Commons-Licensed Works

Anyone who uses a Creative Commons-licensed work must cite the original author. However, contributors can stipulate how they would like to be cited as well as for what purpose their information can be used. Any deviations from the requested preferences must be authorized by the original source. When obtaining a license, creators indicate to what extent they would like their works to be used by noting their content as:

  • No derivatives: only original copies of the entire work can be reproduced or distributed
  • Non-commercial: works can be reproduced, distributed or modified (unless otherwise noted) for non-commercial purposes
  • Share alike: works can be reproduced, distributed or modified as long as the user distributes the new work under the same Creative Common terms

Who Uses Creative Commons Licenses?

Creative Commons licenses have been used to share hundreds of millions of works all over the world. These licenses have been used by universities and prominent institutions, like the White House, as well as popular musicians, such as Nine Inch Nails. Creative Commons content includes pictures, articles, research-based writings, videos, lyrics and audio clips.

web search creative commons open content

Where to Find Creative Commons Content


Perhaps you're a student who needs a particular image for a research paper. Maybe you're a business professional who needs specialty JPEGs to complete a flyer or PowerPoint presentation. Whatever the case, Google offers a wealth of public domain resources. Under the advanced search option and the Usage Rights function on that search page, Google Images allows users to filter their query for:

  • Reusable images
  • Modifiable and reusable images
  • Commercially reusable images
  • Modifiable and commercially reusable images

Public Library of Science

This site openly posts medical and scientific text, audio, graphic and video resources. Everyday users, businesses and other organizations can access, use and alter any content found on this site as long as proper citations are noted. Information is available about such subjects as biology, genetics and pathology.


The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a Massachusetts-based organization that unites postsecondary institutions throughout the globe. Participating colleges and universities, MIT being one of the most notable, are committed to posting course details, lectures, notes and other educational tools online. Topics can range from anthropology to women's studies. Anyone, anywhere who is interested in gaining knowledge of a particular subject in a specific language can easily and freely search for it on this site.


The popular online image manager, Flickr, is one of the largest communities hosting Creative Commons content. As of 2011, there were hundreds of millions of free images on the site. Flickr visitors can access a search page that enables them to strictly retrieve Creative Commons content as well as narrow down allowable usages.

Read on for related information concerning intellectual property rules.

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