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When creating your lecture slides and notes, you should only use media that you have obtained permission to use.

An easy way of finding photos which can be used immediately, without having to ask for permission, is to use Creative Commons-licensed photos.

  1. Creative Commons-licensed photos allow others to re-use the photos with some terms and conditions.
  2. At minimum, you must attribute the content, although there are variations of the CC-license which have a few more conditions.

We will use Flickr, which has thousands of Creative Commons-licensed photos.

Visit and search Flickr

From your web browser, visit

In the search box on the top right, type in the search term of the image you are looking for, then Enter or click Search Everyone's Uploads.

Click Advanced Search

You will see your search results.

On the top right, click Advanced Search.

Narrow down to Creative Commons-licensed content

Scroll down the Advanced Search page.

  1. Check Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.
  2. Check Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon.
  3. Click Search.

View a photo you may want to use

  1. Note that you are now viewing CC-licensed photos only.
  2. Click a photo to view it. (We are using this photo as an example.)

View the selected photo and its license terms

When the page has loaded, right click the image.

  1. Click Some Rights Reserved to view the exact terms of the Creative Commons license. (Refer to next step.) If you use the photo, you must abide by these terms. At minimum, a Creative Commons license will require you to attribute the work.
  2. If the photo is suitable and you agree to the license terms (refer to next step), you can download the photo for re-use. There are different sizes available, depending on the dimensions of the photo which the photographer has uploaded. Click a suitable size photo for your slides or notes. (The numbers refer to the width of the photo.) Then you should be able to download the photo.

The Creative Commons license

This is the license in the example above.

In this case, the photographer only requires you to attribute the work to him or her. This is known as an Attribution (CC BY) license.

Not all photos CC-licensed photos on Flickr have the same license above. There are five other Creative Commons licenses.

The Attribution license (CC BY) is the easiest to understand and the least legally complicated, so try and use photos with the Attribution license.

Important: If you choose a photo with another type of Creative Commons license, you have to agree and fulfill the conditions of that particular license, which may require more than just attribution.

Find out who owns the photo

So, the photo is suitable, you are comfortable with and agree to the license terms, and you have downloaded the photo.

Now you need to find out who owns the photo (in order to attribute it).

There are several ways of doing this. You can attribute to:

  1. the Flickr display name (note that it may differ from the user ID which you see in the URL), and/or
  2. the actual name (if provided).

We will continue with the example.

  1. The Flickr display name here is Axion 23 (partially obscured by the menu). The display name is located next to the user's avatar/icon.
  2. To find the user's actual name, mouseover the avatar/icon and click the down arrow on the side. You will see a menu, as shown above. Click Profile. In this case, you will note that the user has not provided his/her actual name on the profile.

Attribute the photo and thank the photographer

You can attribute the photo in several ways. It is good to include as much information as you can, without distracting from your photo.

You can use a small watermark on the photo, e.g. Photo by Axion23 on Flickr (CC BY).

This acknowledges the source (Axion23) and states the license under which you are using the image.

Another way to attribute is by using attribution slide(s) or page(s).

This allows you to keep the photos free of text, combine all your attributions and provide more detailed information.

For example:
Slide/page number - Photo by Axion23 from reused under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY).

For more about attributing CC-licensed works, please read Creative Commons' Best Practices for Marking Content with CC Licenses: Users.


While you are not legally obligated to inform the photographer that you have used the image, it is courteous to do so.

Informing someone that you are using their photo(s) also encourages photographers to share more.

Thousands of photographers allow their images to be used relatively freely without any expectation of compensation, so do give them a pat on the back for their effort and generosity!

You can send the photographer a nice note via FlickrMail if you have a Flickr (Yahoo!) account.

Alternatively, if you do not want to set up a Flickr (Yahoo!) account, you can leave a comment on the photo page in Flickr (if the user allows anonymous comments).

Disclaimers and FAQ

This guide does not constitute legal advice.

Where can I find out more about Creative Commons?
Creative Commons has an extensive FAQ here.

Is Creative Commons legitimate?
Creative Commons licenses have been upheld in several courts overseas.

I want to use a specific image, but I cannot fulfill all the conditions of that image's Creative Commons license. How can I use the image?
If you want to use the image, but the use is not covered under the license, or there are license terms you cannot fulfill, please contact the creator of the image for permission.

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