Free, Public Domain and Creative Commons Assets

Before returning to the GIMP Tutorials, we need to take care of some business. We want to start creating images to illustrate the process involved, but it would help if we had some assets to begin with, and by that I mean two things: Images, and Fonts. You need both for the things I want to do, but I would not want to get into any possible copyright infringement, particularly since I am doing these as a free public service. Fortunately, there are options. There are some things that are Public Domain, meaning that they can be used in any way you like without restriction. You don’t have to pay any license fee or royalty, just use them in any way you like. The other option is Creative Commons (CC), which is different in that it is an explicit license, but possibly one that you can work with. I like to think of Creative Commons as the counterpart to Free Software licensed under the GPL. Both are explicitly relying on Copyright law to preserve certain rights and freedoms and prevent exploitation. I like both, and I am a fan of the GPL, but I think there is a place for Public Domain as well.

As to which you use, that may depend on the circumstances. Are you creating something that will be publicly exhibited or sold? Then you need to pay attention to the licensing. My wife, who is a graphic designer, owns her own business, and she regularly purchases licenses to stock photos that she uses for the web sites and print materials of her clients. It is just another business expense that she either passes along to the customer or builds into the fee she charges. What I do on my Web site, on the other hand, is something I cannot bill to anyone else. But it is public, so I would potentially face problems if I used copyrighted images that I did not have an appropriate license for. Public Domain things can be used freely without worrying. Creative commons, on the other hand, might mean I need to be careful.

That does not mean it is a bad thing, in fact all of my content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. This means you could take this content and use it freely provided that 1) you give me credit for being the creator; and 2) you allow others to use any derivative work you create just as freely as I have let you use it. To me this is entirely reasonable. I have licensed Slideshow presentations this way on SlideShare (after making these presentations at conferences with similar licenses), audio programs on Hacker Public Radio, videos on YouTube, articles published in Full Circle Magazine, and of course you will see the CC-BY-SA license on the bottom of every page of my Web sites. What you need to keep in mind is that according to copyright law in most places any created work is under copyright when it is published. You do not need to have a copyright notice. So if there is no copyright notice on a created work, you can assume is the property of the creator and that all rights are reserved. Therefore to avoid legal problems, pay attention to licensing! If there is not an explicit written notice giving you the right to use something, you cannot use it.

Public Domain and Creative Commons Images

There are places that make images available for free, unrestricted use by anyone, which is what we mean by Public Domain. But legally Public Domain tends to mean works that have gotten so old that they are no longer covered by copyright. For current works, the Creative Commons “No rights reserved” is the preferred approach. The reason for this is that copyright law automatically places works under copyright, so you need to make the waiver of rights explicit, and a CC0 license notice covers that. A good starting point for finding them is the ever-valuable Wikipedia. There is a Wikipedia page for Public Domain Image Resources. Here is what this page says about the resources it lists:

Public Domain images should be marked with the Public Domain Mark 1.0. Public Domain Mark enables works that are no longer restricted by copyright to be marked as such in a standard and simple way, making them easily discoverable and available to others. The Public Domain Mark is recommended for works that are free of known copyright around the world. These will typically be very old works.[1] For a creator to release his/her works into the public domain legally they must use the creative commons CC0 license which gives creators a way to waive all their copyright and related rights in their works to the fullest extent allowed by law.[2] The presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain. You are still responsible for checking the copyright status of images before you submit them to Wikipedia.

The number of places that offer public domain images is quite large, and include collections of photo sites. Among the sources are government agencies, which makes sense since our tax dollars paid for them. You can find, for example, pictures from The Smithsonian, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and so on. The Wikipedia page also lets you search by subject area, such as Art, History, Literature, Music, and images from a number of countries as well.

Creative Commons also has a site where you can search for CC licensed material. This lets you search using Boolean operators, so you could enter “dog+cat” to get any images that had both a dog and a cat. To see all of the operators you can use, go to this page. It even lets you do fuzzy search!

Finally, many Flickr account holders have licensed their content using CC licenses. I have set mine to default to Creative Commons Share Alike. So as you can see there is a great wealth of imagery that can be used pretty freely. There really is no excuse for using images that are not made available under relatively free licenses.


Again, there is a distinction here between what is truly Public Domain and what is the modern equivalent in Creative Commons licensing. There are a few Public Domain fonts, which attained that status be being very old. On the Wikipedia page there are 5 listed: Baskerville, Bodoni, Caslon, Clarendon, and Garamond. Public Domain per se is limited in this area, and not the same thing as “Free Fonts!” you may see advertised on Web sites. To quote from a useful short article Do you Know Why you Need Public Domain Fonts? by Monica Valentinelli:

Bluntly, public domain (or open domain) fonts are fonts that you can use for commercial use. Public domain fonts are not the same thing as “free fonts.” Simply, “free fonts” mean that you don’t have to pay for the font; public domain fonts allow you to use the font for professional use. Just because you have a Mac or a Windows font library that comes with your software, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the ability to incorporate those fonts into a professional project. Repercussions of using non-public domain fonts can include lawsuits, which will hurt your bottom line.

The point is to be careful about the licensing terms. For instance, one site I checked has its own “Free” license, and I had to click through several layers to find that out. That is something I tend to give a sidewise eye to (much as I do when someone needs to invent a new software license. We already solved that problem folks.) And when I got the license terms it includes this clause:

The given typeface may be downloaded and used free of charge for both personal and commercial use, as long as the usage is not racist or illegal.

Now I am not a big fan of promoting racism, but who determines whether it is legal or illegal? And in which jurisdiction?

Another site I checked is, and on the Web Page I see this:

The fonts presented on this website are their authors’ property, and are either freeware, shareware, demo versions or public domain. The licence mentioned above the download button is just an indication. Please look at the readme-files in the archives or check the indicated author’s website for details, and contact him/her if in doubt.
If no author/licence is indicated that’s because we don’t have information, that doesn’t mean it’s free.

So what is a good license? I would suggest a decent starting point is the Open Font License from SIL. You can read about this license at the Wikipedia page, or take a look at the full text at A small quote from this says that:

The OFL meets the specific needs of typographic design and engineering as well as the gold standards of the FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) community, namely the cultural values and guidelines from the FSF 1, the Debian Free Software Guidelines2, as well as the Open Source Definition3. It draws inspiration from concepts and elements found in other licenses, but our improvements in the specific area of fonts have made the licensing model work better than other approaches currently in use.

One place to find open fonts is Google Fonts. Many (but not all) of the fonts there are licensed under the SIL Open Fonts License, and others are licensed by other open licenses, such as the Apache license. To see the license, click on the font and scroll down to the bottom of the font’s page to see what the license is. Another good source is Font Library, which has a search option. Just type in Open Font License and you will get a large number of results to check out.

Installing Fonts

Windows 10

This is pretty easy:

  • Search for Fonts in the search box by the start menu.
  • Click on the Fonts (Control Panel) link to open the Fonts Manager.
  • Drag and Drop or Copy and Paste the unzipped fonts into the Fonts Manager to install.


  • Click the Add button in the Font Book toolbar
  • Locate and select the font
  • Then click Open.
  • Tip: To quickly install a font, you can also drag the font file to the Font Book app icon, or double-click the font file in the Finder, then click Install Font in the dialog that appears.


This can vary by distro, so you should do a little searching in the documentation for your distro. But if you are using Ubuntu 20.02 or distros like Mint that are based on it, there is an explanation at that I found useful. Remember that unlike images which you download and use without doing anything else, fonts need to be installed before you can use them.

So the bottom line is that if you want to be safe, be careful about the images and fonts you use, particularly in anything that will be publicly shared or used commercially. As I plan to start doing examples to illustrate how GIMP works in practice, I will be using these resources.

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