When submitting work for this project, please make sure that you own the copyright to the material or it is copyright-free. If we find that your project uses copyrighted work – including images, music or text – and you did not receive written permission from the creator to use it, we will not be able to include your work in the Voices of Lake County project. However, there are options to find copyright-free images or materials that have adopted a Creative Commons license.

What is copyright?

Copyright law protects content creators from unauthorized use of their work. As soon as a piece of work is in tangible form, it is automatically copyrighted – the content creator does not need to formally apply for copy protection. Also, the work is copyrighted regardless of whether it contains a copyright symbol. If the work is in tangible form, it is either in physical or digital form. For example, a poem that is spoken out loud is not necessarily copyrighted – but if you write it down (even on a napkin!), it is automatically copyrighted. 

Copyright law was designed to protect content creators from unauthorized use of their work. If you take a photo and someone steals it and sells t-shirts with your image on them, you could sue for a violation of copyright law. (Likewise, if you use a photo from Google without permission and it is copyrighted, you can be sued.)

What kind of work can be copyrighted?

Copyright applies to any original composition, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Work that is copyrighted must be original – meaning, you created it yourself. Only original works of authorship may be copyrighted. You cannot take someone else's work and obtain a copyright.

What can't be copyrighted?

Any creative work that is not in tangible form can not be copyrighted. Copyright does not apply to the following: ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, mathematical principles, or scientific discoveries. For example, if you have an idea for a cool new app and you tell a friend, that idea is not copyrighted. However, if you actually create the app and it's in tangible (digital) form, it is copyrighted. Commonly known information is also not copyrighted, including phrases with no known authorship, as well as choreographic work (unless it has been preserved in tangible form, such as video), names and expressions, and fashion.

Who owns copyright?

Anyone can be a copyright owner. If you created a piece of original creative work and it's in tangible form, you own the copyright. The content creator automatically owns copyright. For example, if you take a photo of a friend, you own the copyright as the photographer – not your friend. That means that your friend can not use the photo without your permission.

How long does copyright last?

Under the current law, works created on or after January 1, 1978, have a copyright term of life of the author plus seventy years after the author’s death. If the work is a joint work, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire and anonymous or pseudonymous works, copyright protection is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Works created before 1978 have a different timeframe; learn more here.


If you are working on a project and need access to images or music, but want to be sure that the work is not copyrighted, you have options. Creative Commons licenses override traditional copyright law, and allow content creators to share and distribute work as they wish. There are millions of images available for use with a creative commons license, made by content creators who feel that traditional copyright law is too restrictive. However, before using or adopting any work that is not your own, it's important to check the license and requirements.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that offers free legal tools to enable the sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge. Creative Commons provides a variety of free copyright licenses that allow content creators to decide how they want their work shared and used by others. A content creator can adopt a Creative Commons license on their original work that allows others to use their images, music, artwork, etc. in a way that is decided by the content creator. Many content creators find traditional copyright law to be too restrictive. Because copyright automatically applies to all tangible forms of creative work, Creative Commons licenses provide content creators with less restrictive licenses.

Creative Commons Licenses

There are six Creative Commons licenses, which clearly define how users can distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format. Before using work with a Creative Commons license, check the license type to see how you can use the work, if there are any restrictions, and if attribution is required.

As a content creator, you can also adopt a CC0 (aka CC Zero) license, which allows creators to give up their copyright and put their works into the worldwide public domain. CC0 allows users to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, with no conditions.

How do I find copyright-free or Creative Commons images or music?

Openverse has a search tool where you can search over 700 million creative works that are available for reuse. (Remember, you still need to check the licensing requirements to see if the images require attribution). There are also several free image sites that contain freely-usable images, such as

Visit this page for a comprehensive list of copyright-free images and music.