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.

Images and Sounds: Home

This guide is intended to offer assistance in finding and using images and sound for projects and research. This is not a comprehensive list of sources. All users will need to pay special attention to copyright and licensing agreements.

Finding and Using Images and Sounds

Route 66 SignSource: webmojoe through MorgueFile

Can I use this image, video, music, or sound?

When you find images and sounds on the Internet, you should automatically assume that these works are copyrighted - meaning that, without permission or possibly fees, it is illegal for you to use work for creation of your own works.

Copyright protects content creators - authors, photographers, painters, illustrators, musicians, sound engineers, etc. Only use a work for your own creations if there is language from the creator allowing you to do so, or if you have obtained separate, written permission to use a work from the copyright holder or if your use of the work can be considered Fair Use.

Look for phrases like: Royalty Free, Public Domain, Sharing Agreement, Creative Commons, Free

It is your responsibility to read the fine print. And just because something is free of cost and free of copyright, you still need to cite it properly for classwork!

  1. Determine how you plan to use the image or sound.
  2. Determine what, if any, restrictions the image or sound has (determined by the creator or owner of the work).

Artists can waive copyright or allow use of their creations if they choose to do so - so it is important for a user to determine if a work falls under copyright, public domain, or a license. 

Copyright           Fair Use
Copyright   .........   Fair Use

Copyright - If an image or sound is copyrighted, you may still be able to use it. Determine if your plan for using the image or sound falls under the Fair Use provision of Copyright law.  If your use of a work does not fall under Fair Use, contact the copyright holder and ask for permission to use the work (images and sounds found online in image databases such as Flickr - or the databases listed on this website - often have artist information available so that permission is easily requested).

Pubic Domain          No Copyright
Public Domain    /    No Copyright

Public Domain - If a work falls under Public Domain, any user is free and clear to use the work without any license or even attribution (although it is always polite to provide attribution when possible). Although some works fall into Public Domain when published in certain years or under specific legal exceptions, artists can also offer works with a Public Domain statement (such as many of the images in the NCI Visuals Online database).

License No Fee           Creative Commons License
License No Fee / Creative Commons License

Licensed (No Fee) - It is becoming easier and easier to find images and sounds that can be used at no cost - but may require the user to agree to certain limits, such as providing attribution to the artist. Many artists are now using the Creative Commons system of licenses to label works so users know how they are allowed to use an image or sound. In addition, Creative Commons image searches are easier to find now - such as the Creative Commons.org image search or Flickr's Creative Commons search. Look for the mark of CC for images licensed under Creative Commons. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses; see CreativeCommons.org for more information.

CC BY - Attribution
CC BY-SA - Attribution, ShareAlike
CC BY-ND - Attribution, No Derivatives
CC BY-NC - Attribution, Not for Commercial Use
CC BY-NC-SA - Attribution, Not for Commercial Use, ShareAlike​
CC BY-NC-ND - Attribution, Not for Commercial Use, No Derivatives

License for Fee
License for Fee

Licensed (for Fee) - There are numerous fee-based image databases (ShutterStock, StockUnlimited, etc.) that include photographs, vector art, illustrations, and more. The UNC Libraries do not subscribe to any stock image websites for students.