Using Creative Commons Images in Social Media

Published: Oct 26, 2015
Last Updated: May 13, 2016

Common online knowledge says that blog and social media posts should have an image with them. Unless you are a professional photographer, you probably do not have a lot of high quality images just sitting on your computer. It is tempting to just grab photos from Google Images but this presents a number of copyright issues. Fortunately, there is a growing body of free images online that businesses can use to promote themselves with a few requirements.

Creative Commons

For small business owners it is best to look for images released under a commercial Creative Commons license. Creative Commons provides licenses that copyright holders can use to release their images for public use with various limitations. Four creative commons licenses allow small businesses to use images on their websites and social media with various restrictions placed on the image’s use.

CC 0 License

You do not have to cite the source but it is good practice to always cite an image's.

CC BY License

You must cite the image's source.

CC BY-SA License

You must cite the image's source and protect your work under a CC BY-SA Creative Commons license.

CC BY-ND License

You cannot alter the image and must cite the image's source.

Suggestions on using Creative Commons Images

When using images released under a commercial Creative Commons license there are several points you should keep in mind:

  • Avoid images with logos or trademarked symbols. Trademark protects images or logos that represent an organization or individual. A trademark is still protected from public use even if it appears in an image released under Creative Commons.
  • You cannot state or suggest that an image you use under Creative Commons is yours, even if it is under a CC0 license. You also cannot claim a copyright on an image that is protected under Creative Commons. This is a good reason to cite CC0 licensed images even though you do not have to provide a citation.
  • You should always cite an image's source even if you do not have to. This improves the credability of both the author and you. When citing an image include the image`s title, the author's name, what license the work is under and a link back to the source.

Sources of Creative Commons Images

There are several good websites that collect images available for use under a Creative Commons license. Always use your own judgment when deciding to take an image from the web. If you are unsure about an image do not use it.

Wikimedia Commons

Bakery Shop in Paris (c)Diligent Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons collects a wide range of images. These images are under various levels of Creative Commons, public domain and copyright protection. Read the excellent documentation provided with each image to decide if you can use the image.


Top of the World (c)Joshua Jackson CCO

Unsplash provides free high quality professional photographs under a Creative Commons 0 license.


Yoga silhoutte (c)Bhavesh Malhotra CC0

PDpics compiles free images that exist in the public domain or are under a Creative Commons 0 license.


Finding the right image for your website while not violating copyright is a real challenge. With some due diligence and the right resources, it can be a little easier though.

To learn more about Creative Commons read the Copyright at UBC's guide to Creative Commons.

You may also want to review your social media and intellectual property basics.