30 Places to Find Copyright-Free Images, Music, and Video

By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com

All too often people use images, sounds, and video footage without legal permission. Whether a project for school or work, it's likely you'll need to liven up things with multimedia. The payoff is usually much higher than the consequences. Although chances are you'll never find yourself in trouble for using copyrighted material, it's better to be safe than sorry and to respect artists' wishes and rights.

Here is our curated list of resources for free-to-use images, sounds, and video.

Related: Best tablets under $200

Licenses (A note related to usage). Although the media listed below are free to download, the content often is covered by a copyright and the associated usage rules. For example, Creative Commons Licenses usually allow the content creator to maintain some legal control over his or her work while giving others access to it. Licenses can range from the waiving of any rights over a work, to allowing use with attribution, to use but only for non-commercial purposes. Licenses also indicate whether or not someone can alter the work before using it. Some media are free to use for any purpose -- not because the creator gives permission but because they are now in the public domain and the copyright has expired, is inapplicable, or has been forfeited by the owner.

The following resources will help you find free-to-use media. Still, double check the work's license to be sure you're complying with the law and the content owner's wishes (especially if you're using it for a commercial purpose).

Pictures. If you're looking for a beautiful picture for any possible use, don't make the mistake of simply searching Google Images and choosing one (because most are copyrighted). Try one of these resources, instead.

  • Aggregators: For a general subject or theme, a search engine that specializes in free-to-use images and with filters in place is your best bet. Pixabay, FreeImages, EveryStockPhoto, and Creative Commons Search are four good options.

  • Curated Drips: Unsplash and Gratisography release free, curated high-res images every seven to 10 days. Two websites that focus on selling images, ThinkStockPhotos and BigStockPhoto, also release a free image every week.

  • Specialty Sources: Some sources for free images have a specific focus or theme. NASA ArtSpace offers images of space and links to free photo libraries from the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other government agencies. New Old Stock shares photos from public archives that are now copyright free.

Related: Save with price code secrets for 16 retailers

Music. Whether you need an introductory song for a podcast, background music for a video, bites or sound effects, or just a new song to download for your listening pleasure, royalty-free music is available if you know where to look.

  • Songs: Free Music Archives maintains a large selection of high-quality music sorted by genre or curator. Even though all are free to download, songs are covered by a Creative Commons license and may require that you give attribution to the original creator, only use the songs for non-commercial purposes, or keep the music in its original form (no remixing) if you plan to redistribute it. Check the specific license on the right side of the screen when viewing a track. Jamendo welcome is another source for free-to-download songs, although not all tracks are available for re-use. Lovers of classical music should try MusOpen, which offers songs and sheet music from six featured composers at no cost.

  • Sound Bites and Effects: If you're searching for a side effect, clip, or bite (i.e., not a whole song), Sound Bible is a good resource. The Royalty Free sections feature work that's been listed under a Creative Commons or Public Domain license. Free Sound is another large database of Creative Commons-licensed snippets. Finally, SoundGator offers sound effects that can be used for commercial purposes as long as they are part of a larger project and not simply re-released as an audio sample.

  • For a Show: If you need background music for a video, YouTube offers an audio library that can be searched by genre, mood, instrument, or duration. If you're a podcaster, consider one of the many options suggested by the Association of Music Podcasting.

Video. You may have less need for video, but when it's called for, here is where to go.

Related: Best laptops under $500

  • Clips: For short clips, there are several resources with free-to-use SD and HD options. Check out Videezy, WorldClips, and Videvo. xStockVideo also offers clips with free or paid licenses, depending how the clip will be used.

  • Feature Films: Some movies have entered the public domain and are now free to watch. Find them at PublicDomainFlicks, iMovies.blogspot.com, OpenFlix, and Archive.org (which also stocks public domain images, text, audio, and software).

  • Weekly Freebies: A number of sites that sell stock footage also release a free clip every week or month. Log in and download yours at Pond5, iStockPhoto, RevoStock, and AlwaysHD.

More from Cheapism:
Best cheap desktop under $500
Top inexpensive streaming media players

For more ways to save, follow Cheapism on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.
To stay on top of the latest posts, read the Cheapism Blog.