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Finding Free Content in the Creative Commons

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Looking for photos, music, text, books and other content that's free to share or modify for your own purposes? The Creative Commons search engine can help you find tons of (legally) free stuff on the web.

The Creative Commons was founded in 2001 to introduce a new form of copyright that's less restrictive than the "all rights reserved" approach generally in practice today. The goal was to restore "balance, compromise, and moderation—once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally."

By using a Creative Commons license, content creators adopt a "some rights reserved" form of copyright that encourages sharing and modifying content by others.

Today, the Creative Commons organization estimates that more than 5 million web sites link to its license. That's a lot of content, most of which is available for free or nominal charge.

The Creative Commons search engine (powered by Nutch, which we've previously covered) makes it easy to find this content. You can search for Creative Commons audio, images, text, video, and other formats that are free to share online.

You can also limit your search to works that you are free to modify, adapt, or build upon, or even use for commercial purposes.

Search results are labeled with icons, indicating whether works are in the public domain, whether they can be re-used or modified and so on.

Although the search works well, the site also features a number of directories that are a big help for locating specific types of content. Start with Common Content, a registry and directory of Creative Commons licensed works to get a sense of what's available, and to help you establish some parameters for searching.

Then try out the directories for audio, images, video, text and educational materials, all accessible from the main search page. You'll find lots of music (primarily from lesser known artists and labels, but much of it quite good nonetheless), stock photos and public domain films from the worlds of government and advertising.

There's a lot of specialized content as well, such as the Oyez Project's years of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings available as licensed MP3s. You can also find online course materials from MIT, Rice University, and the Berklee College of Music.

The Creative Commons is run by a distinguished group of people who are genuinely concerned about the ongoing trend toward overly restrictive copyright laws and Draconian enforcement actions taken by groups such as the Recording Industry of America. Want to know more about the Creative Commons? Check out this list of frequently asked questions for more information.

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