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Open Access Resources

Open Access Image Databases

Open-access images are either in the Public Domain or covered by a Creative Commons License. In Canada, works enter the public domain 50 years after their creator's death. This varies from country to country, so double-check local and relevant copyright laws when using images.

Public Domain Databases

  • Creative Commons Search Portal
    • What is there: Global search and agglomeration of search portals for content Licensed with Creative Commons licenses 
    • How to use: Open to all. Keyword search across multiple databases.
  • Flickr Commons
    • What is there: Community of individual and institutional collections of images, all identified with relevant CC licenses. 
    • How to use: Creators can license their works to others; select the "Any License" to filter search content.
  • HathiTrust 
    • What is there: Collaboration of academic and research libraries preserving 17+ million digitized items, including items from the McGill Collections.
    • How to use: McGill library users can access PDF copies of HathiTrust Titles.
  • Openverse
    • What is there: An extensive library of Creative Commons images available for free reuse. An open-source collaboration between WordPress and Creative Commons.
    • How to use: CC does not control results, so you should always double-check that the work is actually under a CC license. 
  • Public domain review
    • What is there: Curated images and illustrations from the public domain. Source collections include: Biodiversity Heritage Library, Europeana, Flickr Commons, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons. The Review also contains collections of audio and video in the public domain.
    • How to use: Most of the content is in the public domain or under an open license worldwide. Because of variations in local law, this is not always the case, particularly relating to film and audio content. Check local laws before reuse.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    • What is there: Open-source image repository, all images identified with a Creative Commons license.
    • How to use: Search the database and you can then filter by license type : no restrictions, use with attribution, use with attribution and same license.

Free Stock Image Sources

  • Pixabay
    • High-quality stock images, videos and music shared by talented community content creators.
  • Pexels
    • Free stock photos, royalty-free images, and videos shared by creators.
  • Unsplash
    • Over 3 million free high-resolution images. Not all are CC0, but use with attribution is often allowed.

Library and Museum Collections

  • Europeana
    • What is there: Search, save and share art, books, films and music from thousands of cultural institutions. Discover artworks, books, music, and videos on art, newspapers, archaeology, fashion, science, sport, and much more.
    • How to use it: There are three search conditions for reuse to filter your search. See the FAQs for guidance.
  • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online
    • What is there: Includes photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials produced in, or documenting the history of, the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people.
    • How to use it: Whenever possible, LOC provides information about copyright holders and any other restrictions in the catalogue records. Patrons must determine the appropriate use of an item, based on their research and available information.
  • New York Public Library 
    • What is there: Explore 924,114 items digitized from the NYPL collections. 
    • How to use it: When searching, select the "Search only public domain items" option to filter your results to items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions. On the Browse page, you can easily turn this filter on and off with the “Show Only Public Domain” button in the upper left corner of the page. Note, copyright in the United States expires 70 years after the death of the author if it has not been subsequently renewed.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • What is there: Explore more than 490,000 works from the museum collections and the research and conversations they inspire. Also includes open access datasets available through the Met's API.
    • How to use: Images free for reuse are labelled OA-Open Access in the lower left corner of the image.
  • Rijksmuseum
    • What is there: Collections include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings.
    • How to use it: Account creation is required, and images can be downloaded or shared depending on permissions.
  • Smithsonian Open Access 
    • What is there: This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.
    • How to use it: A single, user-friendly, unified search platform that returns open-access resources for free creative re-use.
  • Wellcome Collection
    • What is there: Images taken from the Wellcome library and museum collections, including paintings, illustrations, photos and paintings.

    • How to use it: Filter your search results by license type, excluding any that are 'in copyright'. Verify what license applies and download and use images accordingly.

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