Creative Commons (CC) is a cool idea that is helping change the standards for copyright control and usage rights all over the world. But you still need to give proper credit.
CC images are great to consider when you can’t shoot a photo or create a graphic that works yourself. Having an original image is always preferable, but there are many situations where that’s not possible. Before looking into paid options like downloading AP photos, see if there’s not something you can use for free.
Just because an image is in the Creative Commons does not mean you can do whatever you want with it. Creative Commons includes media with many different levels of licensing permissions. As a rule of thumb, you can probably use Creative Commons images for an Annenberg Media story but always provide attribution in the form of a photographer credit.
If you want to understand the different licensing options within the Creative Commons umbrella, it’s all broken down online in an easy-to-understand way. Works of journalism can use some materials that are off-limits for commercial reproduction, and being part of a non-profit educational institution offers additional options to Annenberg Media staff. If you’re modifying an image— including it in a graphic, for instance—that opens up some broader usage possibilities as well.
All that said, here’s the big picture: don’t be sloppy and get yourself and the newsroom in trouble for copyright violations. It could lead to legal consequences and undermines the work of photographers. And it’s not a good look.
Check the rights for every photo you want to use. It’s safe to always assume attribution is required in the form of a photographer credit.
Once you understand those rules: finding and downloading Creative Commons images is easy. CreativeCommons.org has a search feature, as does Flickr. Pexels and Pixabay have huge databases images that can be used for projects. There are more images available for you to use legally without paying a cent than ever before.
Google Image search also allows you to sort results by their usage rights. Check out this screengrab of how to filter via the “Usage Rights” tool.