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  • Writer's pictureSarah Turnbull

What Images Can I Use For Free?

In today's post, we'll look at what images we can use for free for marketing and websites. We'll take a look at Public Domain images, what they are and how you can find them.

There’s a worrying trend being reported out of the US of people releasing ‘free stock’ images online, letting people download and use them. They allegedly sit back for a while then issue cease and desist letters for copyright infringement, accompanied by a threat or the issuing of a fine!

This seemingly hasn’t reached the UK yet, but it’s something that creatives and business owners need to be aware of.

What images can I use for my business?

With so many images online, it can be difficult to determine which images you can or can’t use for your business.

You should only use images created by other people if you have permission to do so – otherwise it’s likely that you are infringing their copyright. Photographs are protected by copyright and unauthorised copying or use of someone’s photo is infringement. When a person takes a photograph, copyright is automatically and immediately attached the moment it is taken. Copyright does not need to be applied for, or granted, like a trade mark does.

The broad basis of Copyright law is the creator has the right to reproduce his or her own work; to display or perform the work in public and to create offshoot works from the original piece. Copyright to a piece of work expires (in most cases – there are some exceptions) 70 years from the date of creation. So, if you want to use copyrighted images on your website, electronic or printed materials, you can either purchase the licence to reproduce the image or you can seek a release to do so from the creator.

Using Paid Stock Images.

There are lots of websites out there that offer images for a fee. They have thousands of photos and are generally well categorised, so you can find what you are looking for quickly. These sites do have different options (and associated fees) for different images uses – personal versus commercial for example. Bear in mind, if you opt for the cheaper option (personal use) then use the image on the website, you will be breaking the licence agreement and you run the risk of falling foul of an infringement action – so choose the right download and licence for the image you buy. The likes of Getty Images, iStock, and Cutcaster are all great examples of sites where you can licence the use of images for your marketing activities.

Another option is to use public domain photos, but you need to know what they are and where to find them.

What are public domain images?

Images that are public domain are free to use, but don’t be fooled into thinking that if you see an image online that means it’s automatically in the public domain. It’s not!

Public domain images have no copyright because they’ve either never had copyright, or it has expired. Copyright is valid on most imagery for 70 years from the date of creation. A public domain image is one that is free from known copyright. This applies around the world. What this means is that this image can be copied, distributed, performed or modified. The person taking the action does not have to seek permission from the original creator to take the action. Public domain images don’t need a citation when they are being used.

How do I find public domain images?

There are some sites that are specifically dedicated to public domain images, so these are great to bookmark for future use. Sites like Public Domain Archive have some attractive, modern and vintage images. The site isn’t that well categorised and the search function is limited so it’s not so easy to find what you are looking for quickly, but if you have some time, it’s good to scroll through and download some images.

Pixabay has a great search function and a vast array of images, so is definitely worth a visit. Public Domain Pictures is another and there are dozens more sites where you can scroll and search images for your site.

So, this is a bit of a cautionary tale… As a small business owner, I imagine you’re busy enough as it is – you don’t need to get caught up in action for something that’s so simple to avoid. It’s not worth cutting corners for the sake of a few pounds or for the sake of a little searching for the right images! You can use Public Domain images for free, so take the time to find a good site that works for you and has lots of good quality images for you to use.



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