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Creative Commons Launches an Improved Search Function
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Posted On July 9, 2019
Creative Commons has launched a powerful new search engine, CC Search, which currently provides access to more than 300 million images from 19 providers. Although Creative Commons has had a search feature for some time, it was not a true search engine; it was a form that let users enter a search term and then choose a website to search, including Google, Google Images, Jamendo Music, Europeana, Flickr, and YouTube. Users were not guaranteed that their results had been cleared for reuse and would need to check with the originating website to determine what, if any, reuse rights applied. For now, users may choose either the new or the old option. Creative Commons plans to deactivate the old search functionality at some point in the future.

According to Jane Park, Creative Commons’ director of product and research, the “new product vision for CC Search … gets more specific than our ultimate goal of providing access to all 1.4 billion CC licensed and public domain works on the web. … [It] is focused on building a product that promotes not just discovery, but reuse of openly-licensed and public domain works.”

Search results include a work’s attribution and the type of Creative Commons license it uses; for example, a search shows that “Meercats 3” by The Lamb Family is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Both rich text and HTML formats are available so users may add the content as needed. The name of and a link to the source are also represented. In addition, an API enables users to access the Creative Commons catalog that supports CC Search.

Park told me that images were chosen first because they “account for more than half of the CC licensed commons. This was reported in our State of the Commons report back when the proof of concept was conceived and built. Because more than half of the CC licensed commons is images, we thought it would be a good place to start for a proof of concept that would prove to the world and our funders that we could build this search tool.” (To read about the original proof of concept, click here.)

Park writes, “While our ultimate goal remains the same (to provide access to all 1.4 billion works in the commons), we are initially focused on images that creators desire to reuse in meaningful ways, learning about how these images are reused in the wild, and incorporating that learning back into CC Search.”

Goals for CC Search

Creative Commons developed a road map for CC Search for 2019. Feedback is an integral part of this plan. The following are a selection of “key deliverables”:

  • Q1
    • Catalog 325 million works
    • Ship product vision & strategy
    • Ship CC API strategy
    • Ship developer documentation
  • Q2
    • Ship CC Search 1.0 as default
    • Soft launch CC API
    • Make CC Search accessible
    • GSoC (usability) [According to Jane Park, GSoC is the Google Summer of Code fellowship program. She tells me that Google funds the fellowships, and Creative Commons works with five fellows on a list of projects. Learn more here.]
  • Q3
    • Integrate open texts
    • User research for open audio
    • ID API partners
    • Integrate open audio
    • Prototype API partner integration

A Community of Creative Works

Since the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 significantly extended the copyright term and thus effectively stymied the amount of material entering the public domain, Creative Commons has continued to expand the concept of a commons for content creators. According to James Boyle, a professor specializing in copyright law and author of the book The Public Domain, “The term ‘commons’ is generally used to denote a resource over which some group has access and use rights—albeit perhaps under certain conditions.” Many creators want their works to be reused and referenced without the restrictions applied by current copyright law. Creative Commons provides an alternative route for them, whereby they may define the types of use available for their works.

Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, says, “Our work is to build a vibrant, usable commons, powered by collaboration and gratitude.” In the “State of the Commons” 2017 report, Merkley expands on this, writing, “Creative Commons is the leading organization supporting the global movement for sharing and collaboration. We create, maintain, and promote the Creative Commons licenses—free, international, easy-to-use copyright licenses that are the standard for enabling sharing and remix.”

Thanks to CC Search, creators worldwide can now enable their works to be discovered, providing them with additional exposure and offering a safe haven for people to reuse their materials for their own creative ends.


Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

Related Articles

2/21/2017 8:00:00 AMCreative Commons Test Drives New Search Tool
2/28/2017Updates to CC Search
7/11/2017Creative Commons Starts Mini-Grant Program for CC Communities
9/12/2019Creative Commons' New Book Complements Its CC Certificate Program
11/21/2019Books Entering the Public Domain in 2020


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