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California State University, Fullerton

Pollak Library

Rights-Free and Rights-Light Media & Content: Home

A guide to using and finding rights-free and rights-light media and content for non-commercial purposes.

Welcome to the Pollak Library guide to finding Rights-Free Media

Copyleft symbolThis guide will help you find "rights-free" and "rights-light" media and content that is available for re-use, sharing, and oftentimes modification (aka "remixing").

There are many different types of rights-free and rights-light designations, such as: Creative Commons, Public Domain, Open Source, and Open Access. These designations do not replace copyright; instead they work alongside copyright. It is still ultimately the responsibility of the content consumer to verify terms of use for each intellectual property item.

When you browse this guide you will find:

Copyleft public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What is Public Domain?

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. An important wrinkle to understand about public domain material is that, while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright.

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired
  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
  • copyright law does not protect this type of work

Source: Stanford University Libraries Copyright & Fair Use.

See Also: Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States (Cornell University cheat sheet).

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons logo

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. It does not replace copyright; instead it works alongside copyright.

Content creators may choose from a selection of free, easy-to-use copyright licenses that provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Conversely, the application of a Creative Commons license to a piece of intellectual property tell content consumers that they may use, share, and sometimes modify your content for free.

Creative Commons licenses are frequently applied to photographs and artwork, videos, music and audio files, presentations, coursework, ebooks, blog posts, and wiki pages.

Related Guides

Additional Pollak Library Guides to help you learn more about related topics.