Open Content: It’s Not Just for Teaching and Learning

As you know from our blog and website, we like to expound on the many wonderful uses of open content for teaching, learning, and personal enrichment. But, did you know that openly-licensed content is a terrific resource for marketing and communications types as well?

Here’s a scenario any marketing person can relate to (hint: I’m talking about me). Your organization is about to launch a new website. You’ve got about 25 pages that require some kind of visual. You’ll need images that represent abstract concepts (“cyberinfrastructure” anyone?). But, you don’t have the budget to hire a photographer or graphic designer. So, where can you find images you can legally use, modify, and redistribute on your website?

Open Content to the Rescue!

Many photographers, illustrators, and other content creators add open licenses to their work. By using open licenses, these content creators retain the copyright for their work—but give permission to others to use it under the conditions they specify—as long as others using their work attribute it to the original source. Content creators are openly licensing their work on Flickr, Google Images, WikiMedia, and the many other repositories that host and support open content, including images, videos, and music.

“Flickr,” you gasp, “That’s no place for a marketing professional! There’s so much junk there!”  True there can be a lot of clutter on some of these sites. But if you know how to look, and think a bit creatively about how to use what is available, there’s a lot to be found. And, luckily, sites such as Flickr and Google Images allow you to restrict your search to openly licensed content (use the “advanced search” feature to find content that suits your need and is licensed for you to reuse). So, when you find an image you like, you’ll know that you can legally reuse it according to the terms outlined by the license.

For even easier searching for content you can reuse, you can start with The Commons (a photography archive featuring public domain content) or Creative Commons (a collection featuring content that uses Creative Commons licenses). In addition to images, there are collections of openly-licensed video, audio, and much more. Here’s a link to a collection of open content repositories we share on Open.Michigan.

Here are some examples of images I’ve found that have been helpful to me.

And, notice that each of these examples credits the creator, provides the URL back to the original image, and indicates the license (so others can find out to what extent the creator allows reuse). There are examples of how to do proper citations and attributions on the Open.Michigan website.

I also use openly-licensed images throughout our printed materials. By licensing our own graphics and marketing materials we welcome others to reuse them—promoting Open.Michigan and giving us visibility by doing so!

As marketing and communications professionals, think about what you might be able to share. You never know when your vacation or conference photos could be useful to someone else’s website, presentation, or print materials. And, as you learned today, you could be helping your fellow marketeers and promoting your organization at the same time.


7 thoughts on “Open Content: It’s Not Just for Teaching and Learning

  1. Thanks, Susan. It’s amazing what things one can do with open content, esp. the unanticipated uses. One of my new favorite open content sites is Pub-D-Hub (, which hosts public domain films, public service announcements, and television shows/commercials. There’s some great historical content that is very amusing – and sometimes appalling – in retrospect.


  2. Sometimes I find great images on Flickr that have not been labeled for open license. In a case like this I’ll send a nice note to the photographer to ask their permission – and almost always receive an affirmative response.


  3. Chris, I really like the strategy you describe, in which you actually take the time and courtesy to inform the creator of the use of the image. I always appreciate it when people do that for my images. Based on my own experience, though, I think probably less than 1% of the people do. I’ve actually known people who quit using CC licenses specifically because they wanted to know when and where their images were being used, and there was no other easy way to find out. I wish Flickr did something like Slideshare, where they would provide metrics on the number and locations of embeds for an image.


    • Yep, Pub-D-Hub is legit. I know their website isn’t well-designed but their video content is good. I don’t access the Public Domain videos through their website, I watch them on my TV using a Roku converter box connected to the Internet. (I watch Netflix, Hulu, and other services on Roku too.) Pub-D-Hub has a lot of videos for free and then you can pay $2/year for access to their larger collection of public domain content. I’m still just browsing the free ones.


  4. I agree with Kathleen. Pub d Hub has an awesome selection of public domain films, radio shows, cartoons, and more!! The free content list is fabulous but the inexpensively priced Gold plan is phenomenal.


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