Skip to Main Content

Copyright Center for CPS Online (UNH Manchester Library): Use & Attribution of Photographs

A public domain image is defined as a photograph, clip art or vector whose copyright has expired or has never been under copyright. However, you can not assume that images found openly on the web are in the public domain. Rather, a bit of research will be needed before your can legally use an image in your class. There are several actions you can take:

  • Use images from Sites that Contain only Images in the public Domain
  • Use Google's Image Search qualified by "Usage Rights"
  • Use images from the US government's sites: NOTE: Most, but not all, images are in the public domain. Read the fine print.
  • Use resources listed in the section below

Listed below are some excellent sites for finding images in the public domain

  • Art Images for College Teaching (AICT) Images of art and architectural works in the public domain made available on a free-access, free-use basis to all levels of the educational community, as well as to the public at large. Emphasis on ancient, medieval, and Renaissance European art and architecture.
  • Artsy Education An educational resource containing 85,000+ digital images of artworks and architecture (25,000+ downloadable) , including one of the largest collections of contemporary art. Offers tips related to downloading, exploring, and teaching with digital images.
  • British Library in Flickr Commons  Over 1,000,000 images in the public domain scanned from 17-19th century books, including maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colorful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more
  • CC Search Prototype that aggregates images from publicly available repositories of open content, including Europeana, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, Rijksmuseum, and more.
  • College Art Association A select list of sources for ‘Free Images for Academic/ Scholarly Use’
  • Digital Public Library of America  Refine your search to images from America's leading libraries, archives, and museums in this aggregate of online digital collections, containing over 650,000 images.
  • Google Art Project Collaborative open-access project between Google and over 150 art partners worldwide. "Users can explore a wide range of artworks at brushstroke level detail, take a virtual tour of a museum and even build their own collections to share."
  • Google Material Design icons Open-source package of 750 icons targeted for designers and developers for use in mobile apps and interactive projects. Preview icon set
  • Gratisography High resolution images photographed by designer, Ryan McGuire. Available for download and categorized into subjects animals, nature, objects, people, urban, whimsical.
  • Internet Archive Book Images 2.6 million images with searchable tags.
  • Life of Pix Free high resolution images donated to the public domain with new images added weekly. Categorized by subject in the gallery.
  • Pixabay Over 380,000 public domain and high resolution images in browsable categories.
  • Public Domain Review Hundreds of images with descriptions.
  • Shared Shelf Commons Powered by Artstor, this open access platform includes over 100,000 zoom-able images that can be printed, exported, and shared.
  • Unsplash One of the best sources for public domain photos and free images on the web. 10 new photos added every 10 days. 
  • Wellcome Images Over 100,000 images available for free download as hi-res images, including historical content such as manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements and 'themes around medicine and the wider history of health.'
  • Wikimedia Commons An aggregate of a number of institutions' free content.

TASL is a Useful Acronym When Thinking About Attribution

Title: Sometimes when you find an image, it has an original title. If there is one, be sure to include it in your attribution! If not, don’t worry about it.

Author: The author of an image is the individual who owns the rights to it. Sometimes, the author may be more than one individual, or it may be a company. Be sure to list the author or authors when attributing a photo, and add a link to their profile page accordingly.

Source: The source of the image is the link to where the original image exists. Don’t forget to provide a link to the photo’s origin!

License: Different photos will have different restrictions. Licenses are meant to describe these restrictions, and will tell you how photos can and can’t be used. Which license is the photo under? Be sure to include that information when you attribute!

Changes: Changes you’ve made to the photo, such as saturating, desaturating, and resizing all need to be mentioned. Keep in mind that a license will identify what photo alterations can be made, but the title of the license won’t make this clear. Even though your audience can read the information in the license to see what is entailed, it will be easier for them if you include what changes you’ve made if you mention it when you attribute.

While TASL works really well for photos and other creative works that are published under a Creative Commons License, the basic premise can also be used with other images for which the creator has granted you permission to use.

Creative Commons offers six licenses for photos and each have three readable “layers” meant for different types of audiences. There’s the legal code layer, meant for lawyers, the human readable layer for users and non-specialists, and the machine readable version for software and search engines. Before you start searching for photos through Creative Commons, there are a few things to know to make your search easier and more tailored to what you’re looking for. Learn more Creative Commons photo search tips, and get some background information on copyright.

Attribution Guidelines for Images You Use

You can use creative commons licensed materials as long as you follow the license conditions. One condition of all CC licenses is attribution. Creative Commons has an excellent  Best Practices for Attribution of a Photograph page. Below are some examples taken from that page.

For More Information

If you have any doubts or questions, you can read the complete attribution requirements which are spelled out in detail in the legal code of every CC license, eg. This chart compares the detailed requirements across all versions of CC licenses.

What Does the Attribution Look Like?

cc picture   This is an image from a Creative Commons celebration

Excellent Attribution

It has a:

  • Title
  • Author
  • License

An OK Attribution

Photo by tvol / CC BY


What if You Slightly Alter the Photograph?




"Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco" by tvol, used under CC BY / Desaturated from original. NOTE: This is considered a slight alternation ot the original photograph

Where to Place the Attribution

In general the attribution statement should be placed below or next to the image being attributed.  See examples above