A Beginner's Guide to Finding Copyright Free Images for Your Site

Successful blogging is about bringing something to the table that attracts readers to your website. Readers tend to flock to well-written, interesting posts with complementary images. While you can provide the posts, the photos that go with it can be a headache. Unless you are taking the images yourself, you will have to find a steady stream of relevant images. But how do you find photos to use on your website? First you have to understand the concept of copyright and how it applies to the photos you may find on the Internet.

Understanding Copyright

A photo copyright is the legal right to use and distribute that image. It belongs to the person who took the image until she does something to transfer that right, such as license another party to use it. Often money is exchanged but that’s not always the case.

There are several different types of photo licenses. The copyright holder might sell a single use or  a certain amount of impressions. A copyright holder might allow you to use the photo as long as you attribute it to the photographer who created it.

It’s also possible to license a photo based on whether you plan to make money from it. A non-commercial license means you could use that photo in almost any way as long as you don’t use it to make a profit. On the flip side, you could buy the commercial rights to a photo if you planned to put it on a product or on a website to sell that product.


Image by Horia Varlan

What Happens If You Decide to Just Steal Images

One of the first mistake new bloggers make is thinking they can just take images they find on the Internet to use on their own websites. They just put what they’re looking for into a search engine, then right-click and save when they find it. Even after they learn about the different types of copyrights, some website owners still think it’s ok to use images they don’t have the rights to use. But it’s a bad idea.

If and when the original copyright owner finds that you’ve used his image without asking permission or seeking the correct license, he has ways to combat the theft of his images. He will probably start by contacting you directly to ask you to remove it. If you don’t, he can file a complaint with your website host, who may take down your site for the copyright violation.

Those particularly new to blogging might even post an image using the link instead of uploading it directly to the website. In this case, the copyright owner can change the image associated with that link on his own website, effectively changing what shows up on your own. Some of the best examples of this ended with the copyright violator opening their website to find those images replaces with new images alerting readers to the image theft.

But the worst case scenario is that you find yourself being sued over the copyright violations. The truth is that it rarely gets to this point. This is most likely to happen in cases where the violation is frequent, such as when you’ve used several images without permission. But if the copyright holder is particularly persistent or interested in making a point, you could find yourself with a legal problem over just one wrongly taken image.


Image by Evil Erin


Free Sources

So now that you understand that you need to use image only if you’ve gotten permission, let’s explore some free sources of copyright-free images. The most obvious choice is to use your own photos. For example, if your blog features how-to articles, you might take pictures of your own projects. You can take your own screenshots if it’s something you’re doing on your computer.

Another free source of images for your website is Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to increasing the free and shareable images available online. Through their search engine, you can find images with the right license for your site based on the way you plan to use them. If you choose the license with an attribution requirement, you can add the source with a link at the end of your post.

You can also find images through free stock photo portals. Two popular examples are Stock Xchng and Microsoft’s online image portal. These sites have gathered images from various sources and handled the release of copyright themselves. However, you almost always can’t use these photos for commercial purposes. If your website makes money from these images, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

Paid Sources

Although it’s possible to find usable images search the Creative Commons database or using free stock image sites, there are several reasons you might decide to buy stock images instead. One of them is that your site or blog is a commercial enterprise. The sources for free images that allow commercial use are limited. Paid sources are also more likely to allow you to use the images without any type of attribution at all. Another reason is that paid sources often have more variety. If you’re looking for a specific type of image, you’ll have more luck searching the paid sites.

iStock Photo, Shutterstock, and Big Stock Photo are all good places to start when you’re considering buying the images you need for your site. These sites often work on credits. The site or the copyright owner will set each image for sell for a certain amount of credits. Each single credit’s cost varies depending on the site. Generally, the larger the photo, the more rights granted, or the more unique the image, the more credits it costs to buy it. Some of these sites offer monthly memberships with a certain amount of image downloads for each month. These memberships are meant for power users and can be fairly costly for beginning bloggers. Though, it’s worth mentioning that some paid photo sites have a free section for registered users, which can cut some of the costs of finding images for your site.

Author bio: Brian Lakeman is author and Brand Manager for Activ8me NBN Broadband, Australia’s premiere broadband provider.

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