Find Free Images Online – Understanding the Creative Commons License

by on October 02, 2012

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Even though the Internet has tons of content that users are able to download, modify, save, etc., that doesn’t mean that content is free.  Most content is copyrighted and “borrowing” amounts to plagiarism. So what is a blogger in search of great, free images to illustrate their point to do? Well, you could always snap your own photo or create your own image. Or, you could look to the Creative Commons for inspiration.

In this post we’ll discuss why images are important to online content as well as what images you are (legally!) free to use.

How do I read this?  It doesn’t even have pictures!

Although most people over the age of ten don’t decide whether or not to read a piece of content solely based on whether or not there are pictures included, many digital marketers have pointed out that often a picture gets far more traffic, “likes”, “shares”, and tweets than a bit of text.  Yes, it’s an overused cliché, but a well-chosen picture illustrating your content online is often worth 1000 words, or at least a click, a read or a share.

 Images interspersed with text in online content help to keep the audience engaged with that content.  And any experienced digital marketer will tell you that creating engaging content is extremely important to your online presence.

 What makes free images, free?

Every picture taken in the United States is considered copyrighted by the person who took the picture.  If you find and use an image without permission granted to you by the owner of the image, then you are putting yourself at risk for a lawsuit. 

To make sure that you are following the law and able to use an image, you have 3 options: 

  1. Use stock photography sites – Most likely you’ll have to pay for the rights to use images there, although many (like iStock) offer one or two license-free image each day.
  2. Contact the photographer/owner of the photo – You’ll have to negotiate a price for any images you would like to use.
  3. Use images with creative commons licenses – Each image will have its own specifications for how the image can be used, but usually they are free to use.

What is a Creative Commons License?

Creative Commons is a U.S. non-profit that started back in 2002. Their purpose was to make it easier for people to share images online.  Creative commons licenses help to protect both the authors of a work (owners of an image) as well as the people who wish to use, share, modify, etc. that work. 

The CC license protects the works of artists, authors, photographers, etc. by allowing them to specify exactly what they want the conditions for use to be in their CC licenses.  The CC license also protects people who use those works from copyright infringement as long as they follow the conditions set by the owner of the work.

Where do I find Creative Commons-Licensed Images?

There are quite a few places where you can locate CC licensed images.  Here are the three highest recommended sources for CC-licensed images:

  1. Flickr – Unsurprisingly this is one of the best resources online for finding images.  And you can set your search in their database to only search within creative commons-licensed content.
  2. Google Advanced Image Search – With the advanced search option in Google, users can search for images that are covered under CC licenses specifically.
  3. Open Clip Art Library – All of the images on this site are free to use (unless otherwise stated) so that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can legally use the image.

Remember, just because you find an image online, doesn’t mean that that image is free for you to use.  Always make sure that you are keeping yourself aware of the laws, policies, and licenses that are associated with the images you are using, to avoid legal and possibly financial trouble down the line.

Questions about creating engaging online digital content?

Have a work you’re interested in getting a Creative Commons license for?

Interested in learning more about content marketing solutions?

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