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Need Public Domain Art for Your Website? It's Now Easier to Find

image for Image credit: Creative Commons
Image credit: Creative Commons

Finding free and legal art for your business's website got easier yesterday, as Creative Commons launched a search engine to help users sort through its over 300 million images. The announcement marks the end of two years in beta for the service, with multiple collections serving as its initial bank of public domain content.

Creative Commons' new website functionality joins other photo search engine services, including Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, and gives users an easy way to find images that are free to use in the public domain. Along with public domain imagery, the nonprofit organization's new search engine will pull from a set of 3D designs from Thingiverse.

"There is no 'front door' to the commons, and the tools people need to curate, share, and remix works aren't yet available," wrote Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley in a 2017 blog post announcing the search engine's beta. "We want to make the commons more usable, and this is our next step in that direction."

Touting the "huge amount of work" that Creative Commons' engineering team and volunteer developers put into the new search function, officials said the new release comes with some upgrades to the site's aesthetics and overall user experience. Changes include more streamlined attribution options, easier navigation and quicker load times. [Interested in a web hosting service for your small business? Check out our best picks and reviews.]

Taking an image from the internet and using it on your business's website without permission can be legally problematic from several angles. International copyright law entitles content creators to a certain level of protection from the theft of their content. Improper use of a creator's original content can result in cease-and-desist letters, the forcible removal of items from your website, and other forms of legal action.

One way to avoid litigation is by using content that has a Creative Commons license. When content creators license their work out under the Creative Commons banner, it becomes free to use noncommercially – as long as you give the creator credit for their work. Creators can place additional licensing conditions on their work.

Creative Commons makes the process easier to understand by structuring the public copyright licenses in a "three-layer" design. At the top layer is the requisite legal language that goes along with copyright law. The second layer is an easier-to-understand version of this information called the "Commons Deed." The final layer is a "machine-readable" version of the license, meaning it can be read by software and other technologies.

According to the Creative Commons website, the layers "ensure that the spectrum of rights isn't just a legal concept. It's something that the creators of works can understand, their users can understand, and even the Web itself can understand."

As the nonprofit's search engine continues to grow, officials said they will continue to follow its publicly shared roadmap.

For the remainder of this quarter, which ends in June, Creative Commons expects to add more features, with some help from Google Summer of Code students next month. These features include more advanced filters for its homepage, as well as the capability to browse collections without having to enter a search in the first place.

Further down the road, Creative Commons will add other forms of media to its search engine, making it easier to find CC-licensed content from textbooks and audio sources. Ultimately, officials hope that the search engine will be capable of sifting through all 1.4 billion works under the organization's purview.

Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.