Online Images and Copyrights

Often times many people overlook copyrights when they are looking for images online.  

Copyright laws are a pretty serious business and many people are not aware. You and your organization can be held liable for using an image that is not yours. Just because an image is online it does not mean that anyone can use it. Copyright is an automatic right and it does not require the creator to file special paperwork. You should assume that any image you find online is copyrighted. What this means is if you take an image you are stealing it from the person who created it. Copyright laws are in place to protect the artist, and we want to respect these artists.

Some people think that changing the image using photo editing software makes it yours. You are still breaking copyright laws. The same goes with taking an image and giving them attribution (by line, link back or shout out).

So now you ask, what can we do for images?

There are lots of options for us to use images. There are some licenses that people can choose for their image that allow others to reuse them. The artists choose these licenses because they want to share their images.

Public Domain

The easiest licenses to understand is Public Domain.  

These are images that are owned by the public and no one can ever own it. Anyone can use these images without obtaining permission.  

Creative Commons

The next license is Creative Commons.

Creative Commons licenses are dedicated by the creator. They offer the creator, the ability to choose if they want to allow people to copy, distribute and use their work. Creative Commons license come in different levels. Some people choose to share their images if they get attribution (often a photo credit) They can choose if the image are able to be used commercially or non-commercially (not for a profit). They can also choose to let people the change the image or only use it as is.

More extensive descriptions of the different Creative Commons can be found here.

Take your own photos

One way to avoid worrying about usage licenses is to take your own photos.

Searching for Images on Google

Google provides an easy way to search for images with different licenses with their advanced search options.

You can get there by two ways – one is to use the direct web address

Way at the bottom it gives you the option to choose usage rights.  

The options are:

  • Free to use or share
  • Free to use or share, even commercially
  • Free to use share or modify
  • Free to use share or modify, even commercially

All you need to do is enter what you would normally search for in the top and you have images that you should be able to use.

The second way is is through a google image search. You can do a search like normal in Google. Then click on images. Under images there is a button called tools. Under tools is the option to choose usage rights. These are the same options that were on the other google page.

Stock Photo Sites

Another way to know you are getting images that are able to be used is to use a stock photo site. There are some sites that are all images with either creative common license or public domain. Some sites have a small fee per image or a monthly/yearly subscription. 

I have complied a list of places I have found to find images, some I have used and some I have not. You can find that list here.