Using Free Images for Personal and Commercial Projects
Not all images that are free to use may be used in commercial projects, so it will be important to understand how and when you can use them in products you want to market and sell (like cards, games, posters, scrapbook layouts and templates), or to use in monetized websites and videos.
Where to Start
So, where you do you get started finding free images? How? Searching the web can help you get started, but unless you are really familiar with copyright laws, you may run into problems. On a daily basis I deal with people downloading images they find on Google Image Search without regard to whether or not these can be used in any manner at all. Many images are not marked with copyright notices (they aren’t required to be, either, because all images are considered to be copyright to the creator, unless it is stated they aren’t); some are, but users ignore that; some are marked Creative Commons, Public Domain or simply “free to use”. One thing you should note: “free” images are NOT “copyright free”, and “royalty-free” images are often not free at all.
As a creator of free images and textures, I like sharing my work for others to use in their projects, I don’t like someone else distributing my images, or claiming credit for them. I don’t mind people making a little money from using images within a printable project, or sellable game – that’s why I create free images, but I do mind people trying to sell my images just as they are. And this is something that is often included in the licensing requirements for using free images – that you don’t simply use the image for commercial purposes without making an effort to change it , or add to it.
Some Trusted Sites for Freebie Images
morgueFile: morgueFile provides free images for many uses directly from their creators. You’ll find images from professional photographers, as well as talented hobbyists and amateurs.
Seven Oaks Art:
An extraordinary animator providing free animated gifs – but not your average old fashion gifs. He provides 2-d and 3-d gifts created by his own hand. A master using Sketch-Up too.
No “Top 10” or “Top 25” Sites Here – Why “Top” site listings don’t always cut it.
I’m not going to give a “top 10″ (or more) listing of free image resource sites. The reason is simple. If you do a web search, you’ll find hundreds of blog
The reason you won’t find some of those “Top 10″ on my list: Some of my peers (and myself) have actually found some of our own images uploaded to those free sites by others. We’re happy to share, but not like that. In a couple of cases, it took some months to get the images removed, but in most cases sites like this do their best to remove infringements as quickly as possible.
Note: If you need to file a DMCA, visit Chilling Effects. Not only do they have blank copies of DMCA forms and letters, they explain the how and what to do to file a claim properly.
No matter where you choose to get your images from, as a designer or creator of products you want to sell, it is up to you to know what you can and can’t do with a photo or image of any sort. Research is the key to “getting it right”. And asking the image provider, is never wrong – when you simply aren’t sure, ask.
Just one of the reasons why it’s important to read the terms at each site where you obtain images. Not all free sites have the same license, but many do
For use within blogs and websites where the image is only for illustrative purposes (as an “add-on” to your article) and not being “distributed” on or with a product, you aren’t required to alter the image.
A Few More Interesting Image Sources
There’s a couple more sites here of interest; one of them is a search bar that searches for Creative Commons images.
Photopin: A search bar designed to hunt for images licensed under Creative Commons.
Free Digital Photos: Another free image site for stock photos.
Free Pixels: Photo site with free photos and images.
Why Choose Amateur Images and How Can They Work for You?
One of the sites I use most often when I need something I haven’t been able to obtain by doing it myself is “morgueFile”. Besides the fact that I trust their site and contributors, I also like the fact that many images have not been edited. Whoa – yes, some of you may be looking at morgueFile images and thinking … “not very professional”. This is true sometimes, but it is also that which lends itself very well to anyone who is wanting to create a unique project from images they don’t own. Free images already fully edited mean you can use them right away (for example in a blog or website template), but you often can’t use them for commercial work without still doing further editing yourself.
morgueFile images that require editing leave you a lot more room for using them in your projects. The downside is that you need to be well versed in editing, but most designers also have that knowledge and skill. Here I’ve chosen a morgueFile image – the original image hasn’t much visual appeal to recommend it, but with a little editing, it can add impact to a project, so sometimes using an amateur or “less than perfect” image is really a bonus because you have control over the editing and can work the image into a finished product that looks the way you want it to look.
Think outside the box when looking for free images – what you see in the free image might not be what you end up with after you’ve edited it.
Resources for finding information on copyright and licensing.
Public Domain Images – Information on the public domain; descriptions and timelines
Creative Commons: Licensing Terms
The Creator Endorsed Mark – what it means and how to use it.
My Free Copyright – Register copyright to your projects free. It’s not the same as using the copyright registry office, but offers a date stamp of when you published your article or image.
Copyrighted – Another source to register your copyrights for free.
Copyright Laws by Country – A page from wikipedia that lists copyright laws for various countries, and resources
US Copyright Office – Copyright laws of the US.
Copyright and Fair Use – resources from Stamford U
Canadian Library Association – Copyright resources from the Canadian Library Association.
Canadian Intellectual Property Office – Covering copyright, trademarks and patents in Canada
UK Copyright Service – Information on copyright in the UK – fairly different from the US, so worth reading about.
India Copyright Office – Copyright laws and registrations for India
Berne Convention – WIPO/Berne Convention documents.
Chilling Effects – Instructions of filing DMCA notices, blank DMCA letters to assist with filing and other copyright information.
September 3rd, 2013