How to find and use “copyright free” images without getting sued

How to find and use copyright free images without getting sued.

Some say that the Internet is at the end of its “Wild West” era where anyone could post anything and no one could be liable for it. Things have changed and bloggers in particular must be savvy about copyright law before they use images, videos, and even quotes from music, movies and books for their blog posts. This week we’ll tackle the murky world of copyright free image use.

What is copyright free?

Copyright free – or royalty free – is a term that describes content that is for public use and is not claimed by any individual, business, or group. When you type in “copyright free” or “royalty free” in a search engine you will likely see thousands of pages that claim to have images for you to download without consequence.

But are they really copyright free? If the image you are trying to use does not have an updated Creative Commons License then it is not safe to use and you would be wise to not download it – no matter what the website you are downloading from claims.

What happens if I use a copyrighted image – even if I didn’t know it was copyrighted material?

You can get sued. Plain and simple. Even if you blog at a newspaper. Even if you didn’t know you used a copyrighted image. Even if you Googled “copyright free” and hit download without checking. You can get sued.

Roni Loren knows all too well the dangers of posting copyrighted work. She described in great detail what happened when she unwittingly posted an image that she did not have express permission to use and she was sued for tens of thousands of dollars over one single image.

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What is Creative Commons Licensing?

Creative Commons is the gold standard for copyrighting work on the Internet. If you do not own the rights to a creative work then seeking out the Creative Commons stamp of approval is the best possible way to protect yourself from copyright infringement. But don’t take our word for it:

“Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”

Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.”

–Creative Commons website

copyrightWhere can I find copyright free images that are legal to use for my blog?

To find copyright free images that are legal for you to use without payment it is imperative that you seek out websites that use an updated Creative Commons License. This is a license that tells a user that the creator has expressly marked the image in question for public use. In some cases the creator will demand attribution. You must read the terms of the license to know what the expectations are. Several well-known websites that use Creative Commons Licensing include:

Getty Images




You cannot use an image even if:

  • You link back to the source and list the photographer’s name
  • the picture is not full-sized
  • you did it innocently
  • your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn’t claim the photo was yours
  • you’ve added commentary in addition to having the image in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site
  • if you immediately take down the picture if someone send you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it does not absolve you.)

Are there apps or websites where I can make my own images?

If you like making graphics or if you have a good quality camera or phone camera you can easily use apps and software to create professional quality images that you can use for your blog. Here is a list of popular apps and software:





How do I copyright my own images?

According to Plagiarism Today there are a number of things you can do to adequately copyright your work to ensure that should it be stolen that you can prove it is yours, which you will need to do should you ever find yourself embroiled in litigation.

Although on the face if it, it may seem daunting to be so meticulous about image use try to think of it this way; photographers and content makers create images as their business. They generate page views, grow their following, and increase their ability to be seen by brands as professionals who can get the attention of potential clients. So when you take an image that isn’t yours to take, you are depriving a professional of their rightful chance to make a living.

Sarah Cottrell

About Sarah Cottrell

Maine-based writer Sarah Cottrell is the voice behind Housewife Plus at the Bangor Daily News and is a regular contributor to Disney’s Babble and Momtastic. She is a co-author in six books including I Still Just Want To Pee Alone from the New York Times Bestselling series. Sarah’s work has also been highlighted and featured by SELF Magazine, National Public Radio, Washington Post, and VICE Tonic.