Disclaimer: This article provides an overview of the basic principles of copyright in the United States. The material contained in this article is NOT legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client or other confidential relationship between the User and the Author Learning Center. Users should contact an attorney in their jurisdiction for legal advice regarding their particular situation.


Question: Where can I find free photos for use on my website, social media posts, and other marketing materials?

 

Answer:

Simply put, you can find loads of free photos and illustrations by looking online. A quick keyword search on Google can yield thousands or even millions of options that may work for the social media post, blog article, or digital ad you’re working on. You find your favorites, download or copy them, and get to work. 

However, this can get you into some trouble. 

The problem is copyright infringement. The vast majority of photos and illustrations available online are protected by copyright, which gives the original creators exclusive right to use or reproduce the work. You do not have the right to download or copy their work and use it for your own purposes; however, there are ways to find and responsibly use free photos and illustrations without violating any laws. You just have to know where and how to search.


Public Domain vs Creative Commons

There are two types of free photos that authors can use for their marketing needs.There are two categories of photos and illustrations that are free to use: public domain and Creative Commons. Works in the public domain are those whose copyrights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable, but fnding something on the internet does not automatically mean it is in the public domain. You need to find the source of the image and check for a copyright notice. In the US, an image can be in the public domain if it was created by the U.S. government.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. There are various types of Creative Commons licenses that range from allowing any type of use without giving credit to the creator, to allowing only certain uses and no changes. Some may require that credit be given to the creator when used.

If you use Google to search for images, you can type in your keywords and then select the “Images” tab. Next, click on “Tools” and then “Usage Rights”. There are two license options listed: “Creative Commons licenses” as explained above, and “Commercial or other licenses”, which have non-Creative Commons licenses and can be from sites available at no charge or commercial sites that require payment. It’s important to always find the image’s origin and double-check.

Free Photo, Image, and Illustration Websites

There are a variety of great stock image sites that let you use, modify, and distribute images both commercially (for marketing and promotional purposes and materials) and non-commercially at no cost — just make sure to read the terms before you use them:

There are numerous photo platforms that authors can use to find free images.Unsplash - Over 3 million high-resolution images available for commercial or non-commercial purposes. No permission needed, but attribution is appreciated. Images can be modified.

Pixabay - Over 2.6 million high quality stock images, videos and music available for commercial or non-commercial purposes. No permission needed, but attribution is appreciated. You can also donate to contributors. Images can be modified.

Pexels – Thousands of photos and videos available for commercial and non-commercial purposes. No permission needed, but attribution is appreciated. Images can be modified.

Burst – Powered by Shopify, offers thousands of high-resolution images for commercial or non-commercial purposes. No permission needed, but attribution is appreciated. Images can be modified.

Freerange – Thousands of photos and illustrations available for commercial or non-commercial purposes. No permission needed, but attribution is appreciated. Images can be modified.

Canva – Online design tool that offers a library of content to use in your designs, including photos, icons, illustrations, video, audio, fonts, and templates for commercial or non-commercial use. Also offers full suite of design tools and resources to assist creators. You can upgrade to a paid plan that offers premium content and tools.

If you’re looking to spend zero money on images, beware of photos and illustrations categorized as “royalty-free”. These images are typically not free of charge — in most cases, you’ll have to pay a one-time fee to obtain the rights to use the image. Then you can use it as many times as you’d like. The “free” in “royalty-free” only means that you do not have to pay royalties to the creator every time it’s used.

Creating your own graphics for use on your website, social media posts, digital ads, and more is a great way to build your brand and promote your work. It takes some skill and learning, but will allow you to be self-sufficient and maintain creative control, time lines, and your budget.

Photo Credit: LeoPatrizi via Getty Images


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