Public Domain refers to material that is ‘publicly available’ and not covered by intellectual property or copyrights. In today’s media, where visual art is abundant, there is a high demand for images, for example for web design projects. As a consequence, there are many stock photography websites where artists can sell their photographs or image designs. There are, however, also resources that feature public domain images.
This page is a repository for public domain images. It is maintained solely by its users, who can upload and download images for free. Some photos require a model or property release, when used commercially. This, however, is a general requirement for photos. Material can easily be browsed by various categories, including professional or seasonal photos. Image tags allow an easy search.
The page for each image contains detailed information about the license, the camera used to take it, and links to the artist. The website cleverly supports the creators by offering a premium download and the option to buy the artist a coffee.
Most images used on Wikipedia are part of the Wikimedia Commons, a database of over 10 million freely usable media files, including public domain images. Recently, for example, the Russian International News Agency has donated 100 historical photographs from their archives. Media files can be surfed by topic, location, type, author, license, and source. Each of these categories has subcategories, to refine the search. You can also search files by tags.
The dedicated page for each features details about the item, including the permission for use and any licenses associated with the file. For most media files you will find that the copyright has simply expired and it has thus moved to the public domain.
You can simply search images or use the thorough options, which allows you to sort an image category for example by size, then filter it by color. You can also search based on image tags.
The 5,000 photos and 8,000 free clip arts on this page can be used for any purpose, including commercial. The photos are typically provided in a single high resolution. These public domain images are tagged and sorted into categories, offering you two ways to easily find them.
This resource for free stock photos has been so popular that not only have we mentioned it multiple times on MakeUseOf, it was also recently acquired by Getty Images.
Stock.XCHNG presently contains almost 400,000 photos and many of them are royalty free with no further usage restrictions. You can quickly view the restrictions in the availability field underneath the respective image. Some artists request to be notified or credited, others only require standard restrictions, which are defined by the Stock.XCHNG.
To download material you have to sign up with Stock.XCHNG.
Flickr is an obvious resource, yet it is often neglected. Using the advanced search feature, you can search only photos with a Creative Commons license that allows you to use the content commercially and/or modify, adapt, or build upon the content. These two licenses in combination essentially make the image ‘public domain’ in that you can use it for anything. However, the license restriction is that you have to credit the original creator.
If you are looking for very specific public domain images, you should check out the public domain image resources listed on Wikipedia. They feature historical images, as well as visual arts, logos, books, and more.
A site that has been recommended many times in comments to previous articles is morgueFile. Unfortunately, the site was very slow when I tested it, hence it is not properly included in this article.
For more legal free stuff, check out the best sites for public domain movies.
Image credits: Petr Jilek