You can always add an image or audio file or some other media to a website if it is in the public domain. This means that either the copyright has expired, or the copyright holder has released the work into the public domain and you can use it however you choose.
How do you know if a work is in the public domain? According to the UBC Copyright site, information on public domain, "In Canada, the copyright for a work usually expires 50 years after the death of the creator, at the end of the relevant calendar year." The situation is actually quite complicated, though, so please see the link for the UBC Copyright site above for specifics.
Finding public domain works
The easiest thing to do to find public domain works is to look in a place where they are clearly labeled as such. Here are some good places to find public domain works.
- Wikimedia Commons: This is the repository for multimedia items for Wikipedia, but anyone can see and download the files. Some, but by no means all, images on Wikimedia Commons are public domain. You have to click on each image when you do a search to see if it's in the public domain or not.
- Flickr: Flickr is a photo site that quite a few people use. Some of the photos (though not many so far) are released into the public domain, but you have to know how to look for them. Go to this URL and scroll down to "public domain dedication" or "public domain mark": https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons
- Internet Archive: This is a very large digital library of books, images, films, audio files and more. Like Wikimedia Commons, some things here are public domain and some are not. You have to check for each item.
- See the UBC Copyright page on public domain for more places to look for public domain works.
If you use a work in the public domain you don't need to attribute its creator, as you do with Creative Commons works (below). But it is still a useful practice to attribute public domain works, because it allows others to see where the work is from in case they would like to use that work, or another one from the same source.
Creative Commons licenses
Even if a work is not in the public domain, you may still be able to use it on a website, if it is licensed to allow reuse. Creative Commons licenses are one common way that creators of works can show that they don't mind if others reuse those works.
It can be a bit tricky working with Creative Commons licenses, though, because there are quite a number of different licenses. The UBC Copyright site on Creative Commons explains the different kinds. The CC BY-NC license, for example, allows people to reuse the work so long as it is not for a commercial purpose. The CC BY-ND license allows people to reuse the work, but only if they don't change it in any way ("no derivatives").
For using an image or an audio file on a site, the easiest thing to do is to stick with things that have a CC BY license, unless you're sure that the way in which you are using the work isn't "commercial" (e.g., you aren't selling the work) and you aren't going to change the work in any way but just post it.
The CC BY license says that you can use the work however you want to, even to make money, and you can change it if you want; all you have to do is make sure to attribute the work to its original creator. See here for an example of an attributed work.
Finding works licensed with Creative Commons licenses
Some of the pages below have works that aren't CC licensed, but that have licenses that are similar to those of Creative Commons.
- Wikimedia Commons often has CC licensed works.
- Creative Commons Search Tool: Type in your search terms and click the checkboxes if you need something you can use for a commercial purpose or if you want to modify the work. This tool currently searches for images only; though it has links to places you can search for video or audio files.
- Once you click "search" you can filter the results by license type, file type, and more.
- Once you click on an image you can copy an attribution statement to use so you don't have to worry about how to attribute the image.
- Click on "go to image's website" to be able to download the image for reuse.
- You can do a search on Flickr specifically for Creative Commons licensed images by going here: https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/
- Unsplash.com has some great images that are provided under Unsplash's own license that allows for reuse and revision, including commercial uses. Attribution is not required, but appreciated.
- Photos on Pexels are available to use under Pexels' own license that allows for reuse and revision, including commercial uses. Attribution is not required, but appreciated.
- Pixabay: almost all images on Pixabay are licensed under Pixabay's own license that allows for reuse and revision, including commercial uses. Attribution is not required, but appreciated. Note: the first line of each page of search results includes images you have to pay for...scroll down to the free ones.
- Magdeleine has photos that are Creative Commons licensed.
- You can also do an image search on Google, but there is a complication with this.
- Go to https://images.google.com/ and do your search
- On the search results page, click on "Tools" on the menu, which will open up a second menu; choose "usage rights" and then "Creative Commons."
- This will bring up images that Google thinks Creative Commons licensed. BUT Google just looks for an open license anywhere on the page; the image itself may not be openly licensed, or the person may have used it illegally. I use Google Image search for things on Wikimedia Commons or Flickr that state clearly that they are licensed with a CC or other open license. Stay away from images from blogs if you can't tell where they got the image.
- The UBC Copyright page on image sources has lists of more places you can look for images that you can revise and reuse in your work.
Whether you can embed a video that is all rights reserved, without permission, may differ according to copyright jurisdiction. The safest thing to do is to find CC licensed videos to embed.
- YouTube: Some videos on YouTube are Creative Commons licensed, but the default license is a "Standard YouTube License," which does not allow you to reuse or revise the video without permission from the copyright holder. You have to click on "show more" on the description to see which license the video has.
- To filter YouTube results only for CC licensed videos, type your terms into the search box and when the list of results comes up click on the "Filters" button on the top left. This will bring up a list of things you can filter by; look under "features" and click "Creative Commons."
- Vimeo: Again, some videos are Creative Commons licensed, but not all.
- To search for CC licensed videos on Vimeo, do a search as usual and then go to the left menu where the options are and scroll down to a small line called "+more filters." That will bring up the CC licensing options to filter the results by.
- Free Music Archive: The link takes you to a search page where you can filter by CC license.
- CC Mixter: Many of the sounds and songs on this site are Creative Commons licensed.
- Film Music by Kevin MacLeod: On this site, Kevin MacLeod (who writes music for film scores, among other things) releases music with a CC license.
- Freesound: Freesound mainly has sound effects, but there is also some music on it. All sounds are Creative Commons licensed or public domain (CC0).
Attributing Creative Commons licensed works correctly
Creative Commons has some instructions on how to give the proper attribution if the image or other work you are posting is not in the public domain. There is also further information on the CC wiki about best practices for attribution.
Briefly, attribution should include:
- Title of the work (with hyperlink to the work itself)
- Author of the work (possibly with a hyperlink to their profile page on a sharing site, such as Flickr, if relevant)
- Source where you found the work (usually taken care of by doing a hyperlink on the title to the source)
- License of the work (list the license the work has, with a hyperlink to that license)
See the image at right for an example. The UBC Copyright page on attributing CC licensed images has more examples of how to do proper attributions.