Image Sources – Know Your Terms!
This is edited from a post I made at the Warrior Forum, this morning. It’s about free and royalty-free graphics.
Regarding the legal questions: I’m not a lawyer, so the following is simply my opinion.
There are three kinds of “free” images you can use.
1. Public domain images. Under US law (generally enforced, globally), that means images from before 1923, or more recent images that let their copyrights lapse. Researching the latter can be tangled and, if you’re not well-versed in copyright law, I recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in copyright law.
2. Royalty-free images. These include “copyleft” images, graphics under Creative Commons licensing, and any image where the copyright holder says you can use the images at no charge.
The creator of those images has not given up his or her copyright. That’s important. So, most artists & photographers require a copyright notice, his or her name, and sometimes a link back to his or her site. (I like to do that, anyway, even if it’s not required.)
3. Current images that have been released as public domain. This includes images that were created after 1922, and perhaps far more recently. The creator of the image (photo or artwork) says that he or she is donating it to the public domain. He or she can say that, but in actual legal terms… well, he or she may not be allowed to do that, depending on the laws where the graphic was produced and used.
This includes clipart, even if you’ve seen it all over the Internet. You might win your case if challenged in court, but can you really afford the legal expenses in the meantime?
So, you may want to protect yourself with a dated screenshot of the illustrator’s copyright release, in case that’s ever questioned.
Other legal issues
- In some countries, including the US, you cannot use photos of some people or even certain buildings, without written permission from the subject. For example, in the US, most (not all) buildings built after 1990 are protected by copyright law. [Reference]
Generally, you can use royalty-free images on sites you own, personally. The vast majority of “free, royalty-free images” sites seem to offer those generous terms.
It’s different if you plan to use the images in anything that changes hands, even if it’s free: Reports, Kindles and ebooks. When something changes hands, that can be considered “distributing” the images.
That’s especially true for anything you sell (websites, themes or templates, PLRthat includes images, or printed materials of any kind including buttons, tee shirts, posters, mousepads, etc.).
If you’re starting to wonder where your Fiverr header graphics guy got his images, or your wonderfully cheap outsourced ebook creator got her illustrations… yeah, you might want to worry. You might also want to start asking for the URLs where those images came from, and what licensing was included.
There’s a lot that goes into copyright law. Personally, I use free images from sites that are crystal clear about the rights they offer.
On websites that I’m selling, I generally rely on graphics I’ve purchased. This is especially true for my Shiny Websites sites and my 10 dollar websites site. For them, I double- or triple-check the rights for every graphic I use in my header designs.
Usually, for use on themes and templates that I’ll sell, licensing fees start at $40 – $50 for each picture… and climb rapidly. In some cases, I pay royalties (commissions based on how many copies I sell) on top of the $40 – $50.
(Yes, you may see those same images sold for a dollar or two. That’s for standard licensing, which does not allow me to use them website designs sold on sites like mine. I often have to buy the extended license.)
For an average website (theme or template) that I’ll sell, I can spend $150 in a blink for high-quality graphics. For book illustrations — printed books, ebooks, or Kindles — I can easily spend $1000.
- Dreamstime Free Photo section
- Creative Commons search (always double-check licensing anyway)
- Stock.xchng (check terms – usually fine for personal use)
- Totally free images (lots of vintage pix)
Inexpensive, high-quality image sources