Creative Commons “non-commercial” licensing wins court battle

Image of Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons, commonly known as CC, has won a legal battle which disputed one of its “non-commercial” licences and could have threatened the whole CC licensing model.

Creative Commons provides free easy to use standard copyright licences which allow creators to share their work with the general public.  The licence which came into question was the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 which allows users to copy and share material for non-commercial purposes as long as the original creator is credited.  This licence was used by an American non profit company, Great Minds, which creates high quality educational materials for schools.  Problems arose when a commercial company, FedEx, was asked by schools to duplicate materials for classroom distribution. Great Minds demanded royalty payments from FedEx, however, they refused.  Consequently Great Minds sued FedEx claiming the company was infringing copyright in their materials.

New York judge, Denis Hurley dismissed the Great Minds suit in February 2017, ruling that the CC licence “does not limit a licensee’s ability to use third parties in exercising the rights granted by” Great Minds.  Thus the licence cannot limit a company from being hired to make copies of the materials if the original purpose of the materials is for non commercial use. However, it was found that Great Minds claim was not unreasonable as no court had previously addressed whether or not a commercial copy service could be employed to reproduce materials protected by a CC licence.

To read more about this story see by D Kravets’ article at this link.

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Student’s Guide to Copyright

Are you a student and struggling with copyright? Or simply confused with the changes to copyright law?  Then check out this new guide produced by Jisc which will help you to understand how to protect your own work whilst reusing other people’s work legally.  The guide not only explains the relevance of copyright during your studies but also how this knowledge can be applied in the workplace.

If you are simply looking for images, sound or video to re-use without fear of copyright infringement, then look for material licensed with a Creative Commons (CC) Licence.  One of the best places to start your search is on the Creative Commons Search webpage at this link. There are six different levels of CC licence.  To find out what you can do with the image/sound/video that you have chosen then click on ‘Some Rights Reserved’ as shown below in the screen shot (click image to make screen shot larger). This will take you to the licence page for that particular image etc and will explain how it can be reused.

Adapted ‘Victoria Sponge Cake’ by Kelly Hunter 2013, Reproduced under CC Licence (CC BY 2.0).








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More re-usable pictures : British Library and Wellcome Trust


TENDENCY OF STUDENT LIFE, taken from: N.S. Shaler, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, London : Sampson, Low and Marston, 1894, p. 582. Image courtesy of the British Library. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The British Library and the Wellcome Trust have recently digitized and made available thousands of Public Domain (copyright-expired) images to be downloaded and re-used by the public.

The British Library photostream on Flickr contains images mainly taken from books in the BL’s collections, covering a wide variety of subjects.  The records for the images include links to the catalogue-records of the books that they are from, and in some cases even to .pdf files of entire books.  Despite owning the copyright in the digitized versions of these images, the BL has made many of them available without formal licences.  However, the BL does request that the users of its Flickr images follow certain principles.

The Wellcome Images collection has mainly to do with the history and anthropology of medicine and the biological sciences (it includes a section on sports and exercise).  The images are available in different formats: most images have formats (often .jpg) that are freely available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.

More guidance about finding re-usable images online is available here.

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Search Google Images for re-usable pictures

Google Images has introduced a new feature that allows you to find images that you can re-use without infringing other people’s copyright.

Go to Google Images (, and search for what you are interested in.  We’ll do a search for ‘Ben Nevis’ (Figure 1 – click on the Figure to see the details).

Google Images search for 'Ben Nevis'.

Figure 1. © Google, 2014.

When the results appear, click on the ‘Search tools’ button, and you will get a set of drop down menus.  You can use the ‘Usage Rights’ menu to filter the results according to what permissions have been granted for their re-use.  We’ll select images that have simply been ‘labeled for reuse’ (Figure 2 – click on the Figure to see the details).

Google Images 'Usage Rights' filter

Figure 2. © Google, 2014.

The results on the screen will change: the ones that you may not re-use should have been filtered out.  You can now select one that you like the look of (Figure 3) and go to the website where it has been uploaded.

One filtered result from Google Images

Figure 3. © Google, 2014, and John Dyason, 2006. Reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (

Always check on the original website that you really are allowed to re-use the picture that you want.  This example says clearly that it has been issued for re-use under a Creative Commons licence, and provides a link to that licence (Figure 4 – click on the Figure to see the details).

Licence information details

Figure 4. © Geograph, 2014, and John Dyason, 2006. Reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence (

You can find more information about Creative Commons licences here:

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V&A New Image Collections Online

2006AG1816The V&A museum has undertaken a massive digitisation project to bring its collections to a wider audience.  To find images which can be used for private or academic use please go to ‘Search the collections’ at: collection contains over 250,000 images of fashion, photographs, sculpture, metalwork, and ceramics etc. There are two options available, either copy and save a low resolution version of the image or register for free and download a high resolution version also for free.  Remember to check the terms and conditions for use and credit the source as shown below.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Pixabay – Professional looking Public Domain Images

If you need a professional looking image without a hefty price tag or copyright restrictions, then take a look at Pixabay at:

Pixabay aims to provide copyright free images which are in the public domain and have a Creative Commons Universal Licence.  Pixabay says images can be copied, modified, distributed and even used for commercial purposes, all without asking permission but please check the terms for specific details.

Alternative websites providing ‘copyright friendly’ images can be found in the section on ‘Sourcing and using resources: Images and Photos’.

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Using Creative Commons Licensed Material – How safe is it?

On 27th January 2013, the American Librarian, Bobbi Newman, posted a blog entry on the ‘Danger of using Creative Commons Flickr Photos in Presentations. Bobbi had used an image from Flickr with a Creative Commons (CC) licence attached and posted it on her blog site.  She subsequently received a message from the owner of the photo insisting that she should remove the image as the owner had changed the terms of the CC licence and was concerned that her blog had a commercial interest. Regardless of whether or not the blog is commercial or not, this has still prompted several questions.  How do you know if an owner has subsequently changed a CC licence from a generous to more restrictive licence?  How can you prove the material was originally given a more generous licence? How easy is it for a copyright owner to change a licence to a more restrictive one?

According to Creative Commons their “licences are not revocable” and “you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license”.  Once material is published under the terms of a specific CC licence, the user or licensee may continue to use the work according to the licence terms for the duration of copyright protection. See:

But how can you prove that the material you have used was given a more generous licence in the first place?  Respondents to Bobbi’s blog have helpfully suggested the following resources:

  • Image Stamper at: This is a free tool to help you keep dated, independently verified copies of license conditions associated with CC licences images. It can help you to safeguard against licence changes or to prove you are the original image creator.
  •  Xpert from the University of Nottingham: This database of images, sounds and video automatically attaches the licence details and attribution to the bottom of the image or resource. It can also provide html code to embed into PowerPoint presentations.  An example of an image with attribution is shown below. The image on the top is attributed using the ‘original size’ and the image on the bottom is attributed using the ‘Xerte On-Line Toolkits size’ option, which is easier to read.


But how do you attribute material CC licenced material from sources other than Xpert? The Creative Commons website has produced a best practice guide on attributing material and recommends the following style:

 “My Awesome Photo,” © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: .

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US Blogger sued for using images in copyright

American based romance author Roni Loren, has revealed that she has been sued for using images on her blog which she did not know were protected by copyright.  Roni had been using images found on the Internet to illustrate her blog posts, until a photographer contacted her with a take down notice.  Although Roni quickly removed the copyright image from her blog, she was forced to pay compensation and says that it was “a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn’t have for use of a photo I didn’t need”.  The author has since changed the images on 700 blog posts to avoid the same mistake happening again.

In the UK as well as the US, the law does not support the re-use of copyright images for purely illustrative purposes.  However, you can still use images on your blog posts.  You just need to make sure you are using images with permission from the copyright owner.  Getting permission directly can be difficult so the best way to do this is by using the Creative Commons Search facility, which finds images and other media that has been licenced for re-use.  Usually you will need to attribute the image to the owner and always check the licence terms for each image.  Further information can be found in the section on Sourcing and Using Resources on this website.

To read more about Roni’s story in her own words please see her blog: 



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Finding copyright cleared images


If you are struggling to find copyright cleared images then take a look at the Creative Commons Search page found at this link: 

The Creative Commons Search page will help you to locate images, audio or video which have been assigned a creative commons licence by the copyright owner.  It will search sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and Jamendo.

More information about sourcing materials for use in presentation slides can be found  in the section called ‘Sourcing and using resources’ at this link:

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What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) provides a range of copyright licenses and tools that allow individuals and organisations to keep the copyright in their work whilst allowing others to use their work in certain ways.  “Creative Commons copyright licences and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates”.  There are three layers of licences which allow various level of usage.  These are explained here:

Creative Commons is not a search engine but provides access to CC licensed material found on Flikr, YouTube, Google Images etc., and includes the following types of material: media, images, music, clip art and video.

To search Creative Commons click here:

If you decide to use CC licensed material please remember to attribute it unless specified otherwise. Creative Commons recommends the following:

Attributing the original work

“My Awesome Photo,” © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Attributing your derivative use of the work

This is a Finnish translation of “My Awesome Report” © 2009 by Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: This Finnish translation is licensed under the same Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Further information on attributing work can be found at:

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