Images are everywhere. We see them in print, on websites, social media, television, billboards. They communicate messages words cannot. They capture emotions differently than any other form of communication. They’re important! Very important. They can also be very expensive. Even the “free” ones.

So what can you do? You want to use an image, you don’t want to pay for it, or if you do, you don’t want to blow your entire advertising budget on one Facebook graphic. I get it, but there’s a lot to consider. 

You have a few options:
1.    Stock images
2.    Personal images
3.    Fair use images
4.    “Free” images

1. Stock images
Stock images break down into two main types: royalty-free and rights-managed.

Royalty-free images can be used in virtually any application, for as long as you choose, in as many different projects you choose, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement. You also get almost unlimited use. You may not use these images for free, but once a license fee is paid, you may use them without any additional fees. The initial license is necessary to protect you and your clients. Once you purchase the license to use that image, you may use it and no additional royalty fees are necessary.

With rights-managed images, you have restricted rights to an image. You have limitations on things such as the duration of use, where you use them geographically, what industry you’ll be using the image for, etc. These are established by your license agreement.

2. Personal images
Images you have photographed personally are your images. You own them. Whether they were taken with fancy, expensive, professional equipment or on your iPhone, they are YOUR images. According to several attorneys, you can own the copyright of your photos without registration, although, if you want to protect them from unauthorized use, you need to register them with the Copyright Office before you publish them. And when I say publish, I mean post on any form of Social Media, use in any sort of marketing, and generally put them in the public eye. Unfortunately, this will really only help you if you are willing to legally protest the use of your personal images. Although several social media sites claim that you must own the content you are posting. They do not take responsibility for unlawful use of your content, including images.

3. Fair use images
Fair use is not the same as free use. Fair use is a legal exception to the exclusive rights an owner has for his or her copyrighted work. According to Wikipedia, these are the factors to be considered when determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use:
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. (Wikipedia)

4. “Free” images
Several websites claim to offer “free” images for your use, personal mostly, but sometimes even commercial. These claims tend to be a little misleading. Sites like: stock.xchng and morguefile still come with a disclaimer like this one, from morguefile: “You are still responsible for the legal content of the images including model releases and property releases. These images are provided with free usage rights, it is similar to taking the image yourself, but you can not claim ownership of the image.” Some of these “free” image sites, like Pixabay state things like: “Pixabay cannot be held responsible for any copyright violations, and cannot guarantee the legality of the Images stored in its system. If you want to make sure, always contact the photographers. You use the site and the photos at your own risk!”

“At your own risk” still seems a little “risky” to me.

My suggestion: Pay for your images! The artists who have taken the time, energy, and professional steps to create wonderful, royalty-free images for commercial and non-commercial use deserve to be paid for their work. I prefer to use http://www.istockphoto.com/ and purchase credits for the images I use and plan according to a client's budget. I use images in blog articles, client websites, client marketing materials, books, etc. I feel confident about the photos I'm using and choosing for my clients. I read the licensing agreements and make sure I adhere to the rules stated clearly. That is the way I can absolutely, without a doubt, use images that are meant for me to use legally and fairly.

Do you have image sites you use frequently? Do you know without a doubt the images you use are legally attained and fairly used? Leave me a comment below and I’ll help steer you in the right direction so you don’t have to doubt that you’re using the perfect image.



09/09/2014 2:06am

Regarding your blog on the use of "free" images. I purchased pictures from graphicstock.com when using them can I place a website on them? Or not. also even though it is purchased, do I need to credit graphic stock?

Under the terms of Pixabay, it says to use the picture you must alter it. Are we allowed to place a website on them or is that claiming it as our own? In this case is it best to use no website?

In light of this - feel I will be using only graphicstock.com and producing my own graphics.

I also thought using and referencing pics from pinterest was ok don't use it often but referenced the source. Until this blog I just read.


It appears that Pinterest may not be a good platform as you never know where the photo was generated from. I am considering cancelling my account to Pinterest. But those recipes....


Very good info Lori!

05/26/2016 3:34pm

They play with words and ultimately make you end in subscription or something that asks for money. As a user, should carefully read the terms and conditions to avoid this hassle.

07/27/2016 5:53pm

very well.


Everywhere is different images and we want capture the good moment of our life. This designing company has well print out of images. Good article for web deigning.

09/29/2016 4:14am

An exciting work of a new blog I see on your blog, very impressive

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