Looking for pubic domain images to use for Open Content? (2019 edition)

The year 2019 has not been kind to the Open Content community, particularly for those wanting to use CC0-/public domain-licensed images for remixing in presentations, websites, etc.

Many of the major platforms that have grown a reputation of making open, CC0-licensed images available for everyone decided to take a step back and introduce tailored licenses that would explicitly forbid the large-scale copying of content from their respective servers (a strategy that has led to the establishmend of “copycat platforms” such as Pexels, which mainly served content that had been copied from e.g. Pixabay and Gratisography, and which now has also introduced its own license).

Now you might ask what’s the fuzz about this?

All in all, it’s about clarity – with universal CC0 attribution, people knew what they were using, and image creators had a way of making sure that re-use was allowed no matter what – making an image available via CC0 meant that the author/copyright holder agrees with others using this work in any way, be it commercially or not, and allowing alterations without the need of attribution (altough many of course appreciate it 😉 ).

With the rise of platform-specific licensing, this universal intention has now been subverted – see e.g. irights.info for a detailed discussion of Pixabay’s choice of a new license (in German)). For programmers, and with them theme developers in particular, this has further implications, as pixelrockstar notes, quoting Carolina Nymark: “Long story short, under the new Pixabay License the photos will not be GPL compatible”.

But fear not, there are still a variety of options that can help you find image material that is licensed under Creative Commons Zero, thus allowing re-use for any open content whatsoever.

First stop

  • Wikimedia Commons – features CC0 & public domain as well as other variations of open-licensed images
  • Flickr Commons – public domain
  • The Openverse – a meta search engine specialising on images published under a Creative Commons license or in the public domain.

Here’s a list of platforms that feature CC0-licensed public domain images in 2019

special cases

  • pikwizard – although the platform itself doesn’t openly advertise CC0 images, many of the images on offer are then licensed as CC0
  • RawPixel – not all images on the platform are public domain, but a distinct category allows browsing through the PD offers they have

Free, but non-CC0 / non-Public Domain platforms

still the usual, including…

EDIT: 2020-01-17: There’s a more detailed list that explores the CC0-ability of platforms and search engines serving images, icons, vector graphics etc., thankfully released by Johannes Schirge (@jschirge on Twitter) under CC0.

▶ find it here on his “Website with ‘free’ pictures” GoogleDoc

Header image: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

CC BY 4.0 Looking for pubic domain images to use for Open Content? (2019 edition) by Tobias Steiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.