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Help:Finding open licensed images

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Open licensed images can be found in a few ways. Note that these are just tools to assist you, and may be inaccurate. You must check that the image (not just the text on the page) is available under an open license.

There are two kinds of images, and they must be searched for separately: Creative Commons open licensed images, and public domain images.[1]

Finding CC-licensed images[edit]

There are several options:

  • Easiest way: Click here and replace "water" with what you want to search for.
  • Let's CC - ensure both options are checked, "Find content to use commercially" and "Find content to modify, adapt or build upon". Searches a number of content sites such as Flickr and Fotopedia.
  • flickrCC - only Flickr, but searches with a nice interface.

They should work, but if you want more options...

  • go into Google search settings and choose Advanced Image Search. In the last field, usage rights, choose "free to use or share, even commercially".
  • Geekiest way - url hacking. In the Google search url, you can edit the parameters. tbm=isch signifies image search, and tbs=sur:fmc means open licensed (free to use or share, even commercially). (tbs seems to be the newer and shorter version of as_rights.)

Public domain images[edit]

There are also public domain images that won't show up in the CC search above.

One way to find such images is the Public Domain Search. After searching, click the "Image" tab above the results. NOTE: You must check carefully what the image is public domain. As a rule of thumb, federal sites are public domain and their images can be used unless there is a copyright notice; state, territory and local government sites (e.g. sites ending in .mi.gov, .ny.gov, .aikencountysc.gov, americansamoa.gov, .cahwnet.gov) are copyright and cannot be used.[2]

Note, when uploading a file to Appropedia: Even if a file is public domain, you must:

  • choose a "Licensing" option,
  • include the source link in the summary,
  • add any other information as appropriate.


  1. Public domain images on web pages using a Creative Commons public domain "mark" (a tag containing metadata for search engines to index) can show up in the Creative Commons search; however US federal government sites, a major source of such images, do not use this mark.
  2. Search results are intended to be only from US federal government sites, not state or local; however the Public Domain Search is a work in progress not all non-federal sites have been removed yet. Use caution.
    For this reason, other searches such as usasearch.gov image search are unsuitable, as they do not separate US federal from US non-federal government sites.