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Research Guides

Think Before You Use Digital Media

Not all digital content is free to use (no, not even everything in Google Images is free). 

If you are publishing your work online, consider the following to be sure you are using, adapting, and citing content and materials appropriately.

1. Use media with stated licenses.

This includes Creative Commons and Public Domain; these works will be clearly labeled so that you understand what you need to do to edit or reuse them.  This does not take away the need for giving credit where credit is due.  Attribution is part of Creative Commons and items will typically state this.  

2. See if your situation qualifies as Fair Use.

If you are using these materials in the classroom, as a student or instructor, your work may be subject to different guidelines. Remember, you will still need to provide citation information to give proper credit to your sources.  When considering Fair Use, think about the academic use of what you are doing.

3. Create your own media.

Thanks to technology, creating your own images and media is easier than ever before. Use online graphic creators (canva, visme, etc), a camera, audio, or video recorder to make your own media.  

4. Ask for permission

See if you can find the contact info for the creator of the work.  Sometimes you can simply get permission to re-use the work.

Terms Defined

In order to use audio, video or images, you should have a basic understanding of the terminology many of the sites use with regards to usages and rights.  These are a few terms that are important to be familiar with when dealing with content.

Copyright - gives the original creators of a work exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, or perform their works. Copyright law applies to nearly all creative and intellectual works: books, recordings, images, video, audio, articles, websites, art, music, dance, architecture, and computer programs are just some of the works protected by copyright.
Creative Commons - allows creators to give permission for people to use their work without asking permission or paying fees and also enables people to find images, music, video, and other media to use in their projects without paying licensing fees or infringing the copyright of other creators.
Derivative Work - is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaboration, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a derivative work. 
Fair Use - a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.  Sources must still be cited.
Public Domain - the status of any creative work, invention, or device that is not protected by copyright law. Such items are available for use without permission. Often, works enter the public domain after patent, copyright, or trademark rights have expired or been abandoned.
Public Performance Rights (film)According to the U.S. copyright law (Title 17, United States Code, Section 110), a public performance is any screening of a videocassette, DVD, video disc or film which occurs outside of the home, or at any place where people are gathered who are not family members, such as in a library. Even if no admission is charged or if the screening is in a nonprofit organization or library, you need a public performance license to show a film. Every performance of a copyrighted work requires authorization from the copyright owner or representative unless permission is obtained.

Definitions adapted from:  Black's Law Dictionary, 8th Ed., Edited by Bryan A. Garner, published by Thomson West (1999) & Creative Commons ( and

Free to Use

The boxes below list links to places to search for Creative Commons and Public Domain materials that are easy and safe to use and adapt in your own work.

Photo Sites

Google Images (click tools -> usage rights -> creative commons)



Wikimedia Commons

Flickr: The Commons

Smithsonian Galaxy of Images

Smithsonian Flickr PhotoStream

National Parks Service Imagebase

Everystockphoto - Search engine for free images.

Open Clip Art - Lots of free clip art.

Pics 4 Learning  - Free copyright friendly images for educational use.

List of Public Domain Image Resources - Even more copyright friendly sites

Copyright-Friendly VIdeo

YouTube Creative Commons Search - Search > Filter > Creative Commons

List of Films in Public Domain

Internet Archive

U.S. Gov on YouTube

Open Video Project

NASA Video Gallery - Space videos!

Vimeo Creative Commons


Copyright-Friendly Music and Sounds

ccMixter - Thousands of free sounds and music to download and use.

Piano Society - Classical piano music uploaded by users that is free to use.

YouTube Audio Library - Download background music for your video, completely free.

Jamendo - An independent music community with unlimited free streaming and downloading.

Free Music Archive - Many genres available as well as curated sounds to help you find what you need.

Melody Loops - Royalty free background music.

SoundBible - Free sound clips, sound bites and sound effects.

JamStudio - Create your own music online and download it.  Registration required.

Netlabels - Part of the Internet Archive.  The collection is completely free with catalogs of virtual record labels.

Partners in Rhyme - Some pay and some free content.  Also has effects, Midi and loops to use.

Moby Gratis - Created by the artist, Moby, Online application system, which registers you to use the site. 

Incompetech - Background music to download by Kevin MacLeod.

Sound Search Engine - Huge site for finding sound effects.

Classic Cat - Find classical music for video soundtracks.

Purple Planet - Lots of free full length songs to download and use.

Zap Splat - Free sound effects with a huge variety to choose from.

PD Sounds - Public Domain sound library.

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project - Mostly Public Domain songs from before 1924 that have been digitized .

Soungle - Royalty free sound effect search engine.

Library Guide adapted from Christopher Newport University