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Canadian law librarian, consultant, and writer, Connie Crosby (@conniecrosby), reports that The Commons on the photo sharing site Flickr has brought together institutions from around the world to share their images (photographs, illustrations and the like) that are either in the public domain or available for open use.

Begun in 2008, The Commons is self billed as cataloging the world’s public photos. The goal being to share hidden treasures from institutions, libraries, and archives around the world including the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress.

Under “The Commons,” cultural institutions that have reasonably concluded that a photograph is free of copyright restrictions are invited to share such photograph under a new usage guideline called “no known copyright restrictions.”

Participating institutions may have various reasons for determining that “no known copyright restrictions” exist, such as:

  1. The copyright is in the public domain because it has expired;
  2. The copyright was injected into the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to adhere to required formalities or conditions;
  3. The institution owns the copyright but is not interested in exercising control; or
  4. The institution has legal rights sufficient to authorize others to use the work without restrictions.

Contributing organizations cannot grant you a license to use an image nor can they guarantee that an image is in the public domain. Your only guaranty, if there is such a thing, is to do done an independent analysis of an image’s history and applicable law. Not practical nor needed, in my view.

Images make blog posts, especially in responsive design on mobile. Posts curated into apps such as Flipboard, Zite, and Feedly are infinitely more likely to get read when they include images.

Images alone are not enough. Stock images can be obvious and painfully un-inspiring.

I use the Creative Commons/Commercial Use section of Flickr for most of the photographs I use here on my blog. It takes 5 or 10 minutes to find a good photo, but I find some great stuff tagged by photographers with the word I am searching.

People label all types of photos with a tag such inspiration, engage, or conversation. Photos of things I’d never imagine using in a post. I think it adds a little enjoyment to the reader.

There may be some lawyers and firms who choose not to use “The Commons,” risks and all. I see the risks as minimal and will use the photographs to complement my writing and perhaps inspire you the reader.