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The 411 On Image Licensing for the Web

The 411 On Image Licensing for the Web

When you're working on or designing your online marketing items, whether that’s a Facebook post, blog or content for your website, you have an image in mind. However, don’t be so quick to pull the “perfect picture” straight from the web – there’s a good chance it’s copyrighted and could land you in a lot of hot water if used incorrectly.

Understanding image licensing is essential to using online images legally and avoiding potential lawsuits and fees. Below, we’ve explained the different licenses that images can have and how to obtain images legally.

Understanding Photo Usage Rights

Using images legally and fairly is essential to staying out of trouble on the web and crediting the appropriate parties for their work. The consequences of violating copyright laws are serious and can even lead to up $150,000 in fines.

The safest thing to do is to use copyright-free images or public domain images. These images have no copyright for one of a few reasons:

  • The copyright on the image has expired

  • The image was never copyrighted in the first place

  • The copyright holder released the work into public domain

  • The image is a U.S. work that was published before January 1, 1924

Public domain images will have the Public Domain Mark 1.0 or the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Mark. To find copyright-free images or licensed images, you can use Google’s image search feature and click, “Tools” and choose “Creative Commons licenses” or “Commercial & other licenses” to find the option you’re looking for. DO NOT just go onto Google and search for something in the Images tab.

Other options include searching for royalty-free images on websites that provide them(which we will list below), signing up for a subscription or paying a one-time fee for licensed images. Lastly, you can always take the images yourself with a smartphone or traditional camera. Most smartphones these days have high-quality cameras and are suitable for simple projects like taking an image of a product in your store or the members of your staff.

Various Type of Licenses

Creative Commons - Creative Commons licenses provide photographers with the ability to release their images to the public, while still retaining some control over how they’re used. All photos with this license fall into two categories: those that allow commercial use and those that don’t.

Copyright-Free – These images are generously provided by creators without a copyright, which means you can do anything with the photos, including using them across various print and digital mediums and modifying them to suit your needs. You’re not required to give credit to the creator, but it’s greatly appreciated to do so.

Public Domain – When an image is in the public domain and available for broader use, this means the creator’s rights to the image have expired. The image can be used without charge or credit to the creator. There’s no universal standard for when an image becomes part of the public domain, so be careful with utilizing these images as the guidelines depend on the country where the image was first created.

Royalty-Free – This image license allows copyrighted work to be used in many different contexts following a one-time fee payment. Royalty-free is a common license type that you’ll find in stock photography. These images don’t need to be credited to the creator. This is the best type of imagery to use for any print or digital imagery.

Rights-Managed - With a Rights Managed License, the buyer needs to explain exactly where the image will be used, the number of copies or length of time the image will be in use, the size of the image and industry it will be used in. Since every image is accounted for, this allows the buyer to exclusively license the image for use in their industry, meaning their competitor will not be able to license the same image.

Where to Buy Licensed Images

If you’re not finding the images you need for free online, there are many paid and subscription services you can use to get high-quality images for whatever subject you’re looking for. Some well-known and loved services include:

  • Adobe Stock - Adobe’s own stock photo service allows you to browse and buy their images for commercial use at fair prices. They host over 60 million files in their library and all their photos are available with an Extended License, which grants you an ongoing, non-exclusive license to make sure of the digital work you have purchased.

  • Getty Images – Getty Images is a well-known stock photography site that features impressive, high-quality images. With Getty, you have the option to purchase a single image or a pack of images that include any combination of royalty-free photos, videos, illustrations and vectors. They also offer subscription services for businesses and teams.

  • Shutterstock – As one of the most popular stock photo agencies, Shutterstock offers Royalty Free images at affordable prices for commercial and editorial use. They boast an impressive digital library with over 100 million photos, vectors and illustrations available. They offer monthly subscriptions or on-demand packs for standard and enhanced license images.

Other popular websites include iStock and Alamy.

Where to Find Free Images

There are a variety of free sources that host royalty-free images provided by generous photographers. These websites feature a wide selection of images from medical and finance related to nature photography, lifestyle images and much more. While these images may be used and modified for free, you are not allowed to sell them as your own. Below are some websites you can browse for images:

  • Unsplash – All photos on Unsplash can be downloaded and used for free for commercial and non-commercial purposes. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.

  • Pexels – The Pexels License allows all of their photos and videos to be used for free. Attribution is not required but is appreciated. You can modify the photos and videos from Pexels.

  • Pixabay – Similar to the previous two websites, all Pixabay content can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use across print and digital.

  • Flickr Commons - Participating institutions have provided images to the Flickr Commons so they can be shared with a larger audience and have determined that these images have “no known copyright restrictions”. Read more about Flickr Common’s image rights here.

  • Wikimedia Commons - Much of the content hosted on the Wikimedia Commons may be freely used subject to certain restrictions (creators may have individual requirements that must be met on their images such as crediting the photographer or linking a license). Make sure you review all of the restrictions (if applicable) when downloading an image from Wikimedia.

Images are a key part of creating interesting content, but you can’t just pull them off Google. Now that you know more about how image licensing works, you’re better prepared to find the images you need and use them appropriately.

For more questions or advice on finding and using images online, follow our Facebook page or fill out our contact form to learn more. We’re here to help you succeed digitally!

When you're working on or designing your online marketing items, whether that’s a Facebook post, blog or content for your website, you have an image in mind. However, don’t be so quick to pull the “perfect picture” straight from...