“Free” Online Resources

There are several sources of cost-free photographs, videos, music, and more. Some of these have restricted usage, such as a Creative Commons license, or an attribution/citation requirement. Some are free for personal use, but not commercial use — and note that nonprofit use counts as commercial use. It is your responsibility to check the license associated with each item before using it.

When using "free" materials, your instructor may require you to record the source information in your documentation, and you should save an unedited copy of your image in your original files. (Even if your instructor doesn't require it, it is still a good idea!)


Photographs and Graphics

Check these sites for photographs and other graphics you can use:


Video

These sites have video clips you can download and use for free under various licenses. In many cases, you are still required to list the producers in your credits, along with a URL to the original video.

Note that some clips may be marked free or Creative Commons, but may still be difficult to download.

If there is no download option, but the license clearly allows you to reuse the video, consider using a web browser plug-in like Video DownloadHelper for FireFox or Chrome to download online video to your computer. (You will have to deal with the installation and technical support on your own; this is not school-supported or class-supported software, and is only mentioned here for information.)


Music and Audio

These sites have music and other audio files available for use. In most cases, you are still required to list the composers/producers in your credits, along with a URL to the original song. In some cases, you have to submit a request for permission to use the clip.


Typefaces

Typefaces (fonts) are protected by licensing as much as any other creative element. Note that some "free" fonts are stripped-down demo versions of the full font.


Books & Software

Looking for free books, especially those considered "classics"? Or new software and apps?


How to Provide Attribution

When you are required to provide attribution for the original creator, photographer, author, producer, etc., this means you must include a line of text somewhere on your material. It can be in very small font, or at the very end, but it must be legible. If your material has a copyright notice, the attribution can be added to that.

The typical options are:

  • For photographs and other stock art: include attributions with the copyright notice at the bottom or end of your book, web page, or other material; or adjacent to each image, either horizontally along its bottom edge or vertically along its right edge. Small print is fine, as long as it is readable.
  • For video: include attributions in your end-of-video credits; or, if the video is shared online, include attributions in the text description that accompanies the video.
  • For audio: if the audio track is part of a video, then treat the attribution as a video attribution (above); otherwise, include the attribution in the text description that accompanies the audio track.

“Can I use that?”

If you have found an image, video, or audio track without any clear licensing attached to it, then generally you should not use it. You cannot simply use anything you find online. Try to stay clear of intellectual property violations.

Here are some questions to ask when you're considering use of a creative resource.

Is it my own?

  • Did I create it myself?
  • Was the idea original to me?
  • Was it “inspired” by something very similar? Exactly how similar is it?

Is it marked with licensing?

  • For example: public domain, Creative Commons, royalty-free, rights managed, commercial, editorial?
  • If not, can I find the original?
  • Can I find the original creator to ask?

How am I using it?

  • Am I using a relatively small or inconsequential part?
  • Am I using the entire image, or the most noticeable part?
  • How prominent or important is this to my work?

What is the purpose of my use?

  • Is it public or private?
  • Is it personal and noncommercial, or am I trying to make money?

Is this usable under Fair Use?

  • Criticism and commentary
  • Parody
  • News reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Research

Depending on the answers to these questions, you may not be able to use that specific resource. This can be annoying, but it's better to find something else than to do the wrong thing and possibly give yourself a serious legal headache.