Creative Commons: Best practices for webmasters

For webmasters and web designers, the question of where to find high quality images and other media to use on your sites can be complicated. It can be expensive to purchase photos, even if you stick to stock photography. If you run a blog or another site that requires lots of photos, you can go broke just by purchasing images. But there is a way that you can legally use photos, music and even text for free: Creative Commons.

The number of photographers, musicians and other creatives licensing their work under Creative Commons is growing. It offers an alternative to the strict licensing options available for works protected by standard copyright law: creatives can offer a blanket license for a project allowing anyone to use it who meets certain requirements. There are no fees, licensing agreements or other hoops to jump through.

Laryssa Wirstiuk runs Too Shy to Stop, an online arts and culture magazine. She relies on photos licensed under Creative Commons to illustrate her site. “I source the majority of my photos from Flickr. In some cases, my contributing writers and I submit our own original photographs. However, without a photo editor and with limited resources, original photography is not always a practical and/or affordable option. The Flickr Creative Commons search is an excellent solution in a pinch and on a budget. I do not use any other sites.”

The Creative Commons system actually includes several different licenses, based on the requirements and limitations a creative wants to put on his or her work. A photographer might require any of the following or even a combination:

  • Attribution: A work can be used so long as you give credit to the creator in the way they request.
  • Share Alike: A work can be used to create new works, as long as those new works are licensed in the same way as the original.
  • Noncommercial: A work can be used only for noncommercial purposes.
  • No Derivative Works: A work can be used, but no new works can be created from it.

When you’re running a site, media licensed under an Attribution-only is often your best bet. Wirstiuk explains why she uses it: “I like [Attribution-only] because it allows me to edit the photos freely. I often have to alter the size of a photo to fit the template of my sites, and I need the flexibility that Attribution affords.” Furthermore, if your site displays ads or otherwise brings in money, Attribution-only allows you to avoid the problem of trying to decide if your use is noncommercial.

It’s also important to establish a policy for your site on how you will provide attribution to the creators of any Creative Commons works you use. John Ladd, who runs Paradise Tossed, makes a practice of linking back directly to the content he’s used. “Most creators never specify what kind of attribution they prefer.” While some sites will notify the creator of any media they use, such a policy is not required by Creative Commons licenses. Ladd says, “I don’t think I ever contacted a creator… Most creators aren’t even aware their work has been shared. After they add a Creative Commons license they don’t really keep track.”

Using Creative Commons media, whether you use photos, videos, text or music on your site, is a relatively simple process. However, it is a good idea to have a policy in place listing out the details of which licenses you use, as well as how you attribute images. These best practices will help you make sure that you avoid any question of using a photo incorrectly.

About the author:
Thursday Bram writes about technology and small business. You can find Thursday on Twitter and on her own blog at

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