The Creative Commons search engine will soon be part of WordPress.org, as Automattic will begin sponsoring several members of the CC Search team to maintain it. The engine currently offers over 500 million images, audio, and videos, under Creative Commons licenses or the public domain, aggregating more than 45 different sources.
Matt Mullenweg announced the acquisition on his personal blog, saying that CC Search would be “joining the WordPress project.” It is a major benefit to the community, providing a valuable resource for finding GPL-compatible images for use in WordPress-derivative products like themes and plugins. Mullenweg hinted at a long-term plan where deeply integrating CC search into WordPress.org is just the first step:
I am eager to give a new home to their open search product on WordPress.org in continued commitment to open source freedoms, and providing this community resource for decades to come. This is an important first step to provide a long-term, sustainable challenger to proprietary libraries like Unsplash.
The reference to Unsplash follows the company’s controversial licensing changes, where it abandoned CC0 licensing in 2017 after making a name for itself by offering images originally shared to the public domain. That body of work was hidden away by Unsplash’s refusal to use its API to differentiate these CC0 images going forward. In July 2020, the controversy was renewed after Unsplash launched its official WordPress plugin. Some users are apprehensive about the company’s willingness to change its license and terms in the future, especially after Unsplash was acquired by Getty Images.
Creative Commons search remains one of the few places to find CC0-licensed images that are compatible with the GPL. It will be interesting to see how this news of CC Search finding a new home on WordPress.org will affect Automattic’s relationship with Pexels, another image library with even more restrictive licensing than Unsplash. Access to Pexels was added to WordPress.com in 2018 and is also integrated with Jetpack.
“When I started CC Search, I always hoped it would become part of the infrastructure of the Internet,” former Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley said. “Matt Mullenweg and I first talked about CC Search in 2018, and he immediately saw the potential. I’m so happy to see this happen. It’s great for WordPress, and great for the Commons.”
Mullenweg’s announcement said he anticipates CC search will be live and and running on WordPress.org in a few weeks. The new Automattic employees who were hired from Creative Commons will have their contributions sponsored by the company as part of the company’s Five for the Future commitment.