How to find free (and legal) pictures online
Need a quick picture for a blog post, web page or anything else? If you're like most people, you jump into Google Images and grab a great shot from there.
Unfortunately, that puts you at huge risk of lawsuit, because, unless someone specifically grants rights to you to use a given image, every picture taken in the United States (and in most other countries) is copyrighted, and the property of the person who took that picture. (By the way, this includes pictures taken in photo studios, so that class picture of you [yes, even though you paid for it] isn't yours – I know, something's really wrong there, but that's the law!)
Let me stress something here – this is serious, you really can get sued, and if the person has taken the right steps in copyrighting their picture, you could have to not only pay them a huge amount for stealing their image, you could also be charged damages, which could be serious amounts of money!
How do you get around this? You could:
- Laboriously negotiate payment for rights with the photographer
- Go to sites that sell rights for pictures and pay them for the images that you use (like stock photography sites)
- Use creative commons-licensed content and follow the restrictions specifically placed on each particular image.
UPDATE: There's now another option. Getty Images now allows you to post 35 million of their pictures to your blog posts free, as long as you use them for non-commercial purposes. Learn more here.
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Of these three options, the cheapest is using creative-commons licensed images. Creative Commons is a non-profit system that offers an alternative to full copyright. Basically, it's a special licensing system that allows people to use content without the hassles of negotiation, licensing and fees. It's worth spending a few minutes studying the different options available through Creative Commons at http://www.creativecommons.org
One of my favorite places to find Creative Commons-licensed (CC) images is www.flickr.com because Flickr has tons of CC images and they make it easy to find images that carry those licenses.
1. Start by going to Flickr's advanced search function
2. Fill in your search terms at the top then drop down on the page to the creative commons section and indicate what you plan to do with the image. You'll see three options there:
Checking the first box restricts your search to show only pictures that are creative-commons licensed. That's important, because you don't want to waste your time falling in love with images that you can't use because they aren't licensed.
The other two boxes are optional. If your blog earns you any money at all (whether through advertising, selling something, or even if it is just part of a money-making operation,) you should check the second box “find content to use commercially.” Otherwise, you're still at risk of someone claiming your usage of their image was commercial, and you get caught in an argument that can get expensive.
If you plan to alter the image, by using it as a part of another image, putting a stripe across it with your url inside, changing the colors, etc., you should also check the second box to “find content to modify, adapt, or build upon.”
Boxes checked? Let's go to step 3, assuming that I'm looking for images of puppies. Cool! 29,780 results.
3. Find an image that you love and click on it to find out more about that image
Here's a delightful little Maltese Shihtzu puppy that reaches out and grabs your heart. Let's check it out
4. Once you get to the page, you ignore everything else that it says about the image, and immediately drop down to the bottom right corner to the Additional Information section and check on the Some rights reserved link. Again, you want to know the facts before you fall in love with the picture.
In this case, the license is Attribution 2.0 Generic, and dropping down you see that you are free to copy, distribute and transmit the work and to remix (adapt) it, provided that you give the rights owner attribution. That's good. That means that you can basically do what you want with it, provided you give them credit.
So how do you give them credit? See that line that says Attribute this work? Simply grab the code in that box, put it on the page with the image, and you're good to go. You can see how I've done that in the section at the bottom of this article where I say Photo Attribution:
Just be careful to follow the rules associated with each individual image. By checking the boxes for commerical usage and modification, you're usually safe, with Flickr only showing you pictures that you can use.
The place where this can bite you is if you, over time, separate the picture from the attribution. So, avoid creating a folder of favorite images to which you turn to grab pictures any time you need them, unless you devise some kind of system of attaching the attribution statement to each image in that folder.
That's it, simple, easy and quick. Just make sure you're disciplined, and you'll find generous people happily providing great images for you to use!
UPDATE: In addition to the above I recommend you check out another option: Getty Images now allows you to post 35 million of their pictures to your blog posts free, as long as you use them for non-commercial purposes. Learn more here.
Have other places you like to go to get Creative Commons images? Tell us about them in the comments section below!