Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Finding Open Access Images: Information

Contents of this Guide

General Resources - Links to sites which may have a mixture of public domain, creative commons licensing, or other restrictions.


Public Domain Images - All images on this page are considered to be in the public domain, either because their copyright expired (and was not renewed) or because the author specifically released his/her images to the public domain.  Anything lawfully published in the United States before 1925 is also considered public domain.


Creative Commons - Guide to the types of creative commons licensing and links to sites which will allow you to specifically search for images with these licenses.


Governmental Sites - Most of the information on these governmental sites is considered to be public information/public domain, but there may be specific restrictions to use.  These sites may also ask or require that you credit the source.


Images at Penn - Browse collections from the University of Pennsylvania.  Images found in these databases may be subject to restrictions but may generally be used for educational purposes by Penn students, faculty, and staff. 

Things to Keep in Mind

Even if images are in the public domain, there may be a few restrictions to their use.  Here are some common restrictions to keep in mind:

  • You cannot claim or copyright a public domain image as your own;
  • Images cannot be used in a pornographic, defamatory, offensive, or unlawful manner;
  • You cannot use images in a way which could imply that the source/author takes a specific position on or endorsement of a topic, product, service, or activity;
  • Images generally may not be used as a trademark or logo;
  • AND it is always nice to attribute your source and/or link back to the site even when not required.

If you want to know more about a site's specific restrictions, look for variations of "Terms of Use" or "Licensing" links at the bottom of the site's page.

Information on Copyright Laws

For more information on Copyright, refer to the Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching guide.

Public Domain

Public domain images have no restrictions to use, as in you may alter, change, redistribute, adapt, etc. the image for private or commercial use. A work published before 1923.  Below are a few examples of other ways an image may become part of the public domain.


Sometimes, a person dedicates his/her work to the public domain:

Example of a work dedicated to the public domain.


Other times, the image may have originally had copyright, but once that copyright expired (i.e., it was never renewed,  a certain number of years have passed after the author died, etc.), the image became part of the public domain:

Example of a work with an expired copyright, which is now in the public domain.



Images in the public domain may also be used to create derivative works.  One common example is Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q., which is a derivative work of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa:

Required Attribution

Works under a Creative Commons license, as well as many of the governmental sites, may require that you attribute the author/source/organization.

Governmental work:

Example of a governmental work image.

Architect of the Capitol


Creative Commons License from Flickr:

Example of an image with a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons Attributive tag.


*Check with the individual author/organization for preferences on attribution*