3 Popular Image Licenses You Need To Be Familiar With Before Using Someone’s Photos

Justin Pot 08-07-2010

<firstimage=”//”>royalty free photosYou can’t just use any image you find online on your blog, and doing so can lead to a legal mess. This is because most of the photos on the Internet are subject to copyright, meaning the photographer who took the photo has the exclusive legal right to use the image.


Some images aren’t subject to copyright, however, and there are three potential reasons for this. The first potential reason is the image is so old copyright no longer applies. The second reason is the photo was taken by a government branch, and as such belongs to the public. The third, and perhaps most common reason on the web, is that the original artist gave up his or her copyright.

There can be many reasons for giving up copyright. Some people do it for ideological reasons: believing that information should be free means standing behind that idea with your own work. Others do it as a means of self-promotion, knowing that allowing others to use their work could help build their personal brand. Others do it because they simply don’t care to make money off their work.

This does not mean that all images on the Internet are free for you to use, however. You need to be familiar with the various licenses before you can start using other people’s pictures on your website. So let’s go over the basics!

Creative Commons

free public domain photos

The most common free license in use on the Internet is the Creative Commons set of licenses. People wanting to use this license can choose from a number of conditions, including that a given photo cannot by used commercially. As such, finding a photo licensed by Creative Commons does not necessarily mean you have the right to use the photo.


The good news is that anything licensed by Creative Commons is clearly labeled, with a link to the terms of the license for those looking to use the photo. Read more about Creative Commons licenses, and make sure you understand what it means before you use any such photos.  Also take a read of Sandra’s article 3 Tips For Getting More Out Of Creative Commons Read More on the subject.

GNU Public License

royalty free photos

Typically a software license, the GNU Public License (GPL) is frequently used to license photographs on the web – particularly at Wikipedia. This license is long – read it here – but for the most part what it means is easy to understand: you can use and even alter this picture as you see fit, provided you release your work under the same terms and include mention of its license.

This means most GPL pictures aren’t useful for larger corporate blogs but just might work perfectly for some. As always, make sure you have a clear understanding of the license’s implications before you use a photo licensed using it.


Public Domain

royalty free photos

Public domain is a free-for-all, meaning you can do with the photo as you will. This is true of pretty much every photo older than one hundred years old, depending on where you are in the world. It’s also true of any photo produced by the US (and other) governments. This means any picture produced by NASA, for example, can be used without any concern for copyright at all.

Royalty free photos in the public domain are clearly labeled as such, but may not be public in your country even if it is listed as such. Be sure to read up on your country’s copyright laws before making use of public domain photos.

Where To Find Files

Finding free photos on the web is something we’ve discussed here at MakeUseOf quite a bit, but it’s still worth mentioning a few of the larger sites.


My personal favorite is Wikimedia Commons. This site stores all the photos used in the various Wikimedia projects on the web, including the world-famous Wikipedia. Here you can search for free images and find many, a lot of them spectacular.

free public domain photos

  • Flickr is the largest image sharing site in the world, and is also a great place to find photos you can just for your blog. Just do a Creative Commons search under Advanced Search and you’ll have access to millions of photos licensed for you to use. Just be sure to review the terms of the license before you use them.
  • OpenClipArt is a collection of pictures you can use freely, so be sure to check that out.
  • Morguefile is a site with a massive amount of royalty free images you can search and crop online.
  • Sprixi is another service that indexes free photos. As Saikat points out in his post Sprixi: A Free Image Search Engine With Creditworthy Image Use For Blogs,  this service is very easy to use.

Don’t have enough sources yet? Check out John’s article 5 Free Websites for Copyright Free Photographs The Top 15 Sites for Copyright and Royalty-Free Images Here are the best stock photography websites that will ensure you always have access to copyright and royalty-free images. Read More .


For generating traffic on your page nothing matches original content. Making your own images is usually worth the time. Still, it’s nice having a massive database of free images to pick from. Familiarize yourself with copyright law and you’ll quickly find there are millions of usable photos on the web.


Did I miss any good ones, you guys? Share in the comments below. I’d also like to hear about any licenses I neglected to mention, because there are hundreds out there.

P.S. Having images isn’t always enough; sometimes you need to edit them. I myself enjoy and use The Gimp, but if you’re looking for a comparison of the free options out there I recommend Tina’s article 10 Free Image Editing Programs for Your PC 10 Free Image Editing Programs for your PC Read More .

Image Credit : ŇÄĵŵÅ – Free Photographer

Related topics: Blogging, Flickr, Image Search.

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  1. rita
    April 29, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Awesome info, thank you!

  2. Ribdawiah
    July 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    nice information, thanx

  3. Ribdawiah
    July 12, 2010 at 10:35 am

    nice information, thanx

  4. Narcarsiss
    July 12, 2010 at 1:38 am has also stock resources images have to be used on site unless consent from owner

  5. Narcarsiss
    July 11, 2010 at 11:38 pm has also stock resources images have to be used on site unless consent from owner

  6. The Book Chook
    July 10, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Sadly, Sprixi is still offline. I so hope it comes back because it was great!

  7. Karl Zerr
    July 9, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Justin, thanks for the informative post. I was so confused with all those licenses out there.

  8. Squillo
    July 9, 2010 at 12:28 am

    A few photo-sharing sites (PhotoXpress, Photobucket) include royalty-free, non-exclusive licensing of content uploaded to their sites as part of the user agreement. (Photographers should be aware of these policies prior to uploading content.) If you are a user of these sites, you are free to use any public content per the agreement.

    July 9, 2010 at 12:16 am
    July 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    I use