Understanding your use
Before deciding where to look for works that you can use, you need to define what is your intended use of those works.
The two main things that you have to consider are:
- Is your use of the works an adaptation or a combination (also called “collection”)?
- Do you plan to give the work a commercial use?
For deciding whether your use is an adaptation or a combination, you have to ask yourself the following questions: Are you planning to remix it into a larger work, or are you planning to use it “as it is”, to illustrate a point or indicate an element? For example, are you planning to use a set of icons in a larger infographic material about the importance of regulating hate speech on social media, or are you planning to remix public domain works to make a collage poster that depicts an abstract concept of gender equality?
This is an important distinction between adaptation and combination. Adaptation is when you take a set of existing works to create a new, distinguishable work. When you adapt a work, it’s hard to distinguish when each of the works start and when they end (i.e., a collage).
Combining works (or making a collection of works) is when you take a set of existing works and combine them or arrange them in a way that still produces a new work, but where each work being combined remains its separate, own work (i.e., the icons in an infographic).
Additionally, you need to consider how you plan to use and license your work afterwards. Are you planning to sell the resulting work or use it for a for-profit purpose? How do you want to license your own work?
Creative Commons offers an extensive review of the licensing considerations that you need to consider in their FAQ section “Combining and adapting CC material”.
However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the different charts and considerations on how you’re supposed to incorporate works with the non-commercial, share-alike or non-derivatives clause. The easiest way to avoid all this complexity is to limit your search to materials that are made freely available with little to no restrictions. This means that you will only search for works that are preferably under a CC BY, a CC BY SA or a CC0.
Pro Tip: To avoid complexity, search for materials that you can freely reuse with little to no restrictions. This means searching for materials under the CC BY and CC BY-SA license or the CC0 tool. You can use search filters and specific media repositories that will give you only these results when searching.
If you want to use any work under the remaining licenses (CC BY-NC, CC BY-SA-NC, CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC-ND) you will have to ask yourself:
- Is the resulting work an adaptation or a combination of works?
- Do I want to make a commercial use of the resulting work?
If you want to use a material that has a CC BY-NC-ND or a CC BY-ND, you need to be aware that you can’t make distributions of any adaptations you make to the work. That means that you will only be able to incorporate works under those licenses “as they are”, without any modifications.
This graphic of the “spectrum of CC licenses” shows that the licenses placed in the dark green area of the graphic are the “most free” licenses. The works released under the licenses placed in the dark green area are also the ones that are easier to incorporate in any new work.
In the next sections we will explore how to search for works that are under the licenses placed in the dark green area. But in a nutshell, different search filters and specific media repositories will give you materials licensed in these ways.