Are Free Images Copyright Free?

Are free images copyright free

Finding copyright free images is challenging, but it’s crucial to do so for any design project. Using an image without proper permissions could land you in trouble with the law.

This article will explore several options for sourcing free photos online. From searchable image sites to create-your-own-image tools. We’ll also cover the difference between public domain and royalty free images.

Public Domain

The Public Domain is a collection of creative works to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. This means that anyone can use, modify, and share them—without attribution. Some works may still be protected by copyright laws, however, and are only accessible by obtaining permission from the owner—for example, in the case of artworks held by a museum. For this reason, you should always check whether or not a work is in the Public Domain before using it online.

Many free stock image sites such as Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash include images in the Public Domain. You can also find these types of images on sites that offer a wide range of other content formats such as illustrations and vectors. It’s a common courtesy to give credit to the artist when possible, but this is not required.

One site that specializes in free high-resolution photos is Death to Stock, which offers a small collection of its own (CC0) photographs, as well as a partnership with Adobe Stock for more paid options. Another option is Canva, which allows you to search and use high-quality photos for free as long as you provide a link back to the website.

While these websites do not require a license agreement for their photos, it’s always good to read the terms of use, particularly for the specific types of uses and restrictions that apply. Similarly, the terms of use for some of the sites in the UBC library’s electronic resources will govern how you can use them, regardless of their status as public domain works or not.

Photographers who upload their images to sites like Unsplash and Pexels have given up their copyright on the photos so that they can be distributed for free. But, not all photographers do this, and some are not yet comfortable giving up their copyrights to their photos even if they are in the Public Domain. Other factors that can affect the availability of a photo for commercial use include whether or not the photographer has secured property releases. Generally, releases are required for photos taken on privately owned spaces such as stadiums, airports, museums, art galleries, shopping malls and more.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is an organization that provides creators with license options that modify copyright terms to enable them to better control how their works are used. CC licenses are not an alternative to copyright; they work alongside it.

By using a CC license, creators can give others the right to use their work with varying restrictions, such as whether it may be used for commercial purposes or whether other people can create derivative works based on it. Creative Commons offers a number of different licenses, which are described on the organization’s website.

The organization also offers a search engine for its licenses, which can be used to find free images and other media files that are available under these licenses. However, the organization makes clear that it has no control over the results that are returned and suggests that users verify that they are indeed using a licensed image before making any final decisions.

In addition to using a CC license, it is important for people who want to share their work to understand copyright law. The law in most countries states that a person who creates a work owns the copyright in it unless they explicitly transfer their rights to someone else. In some cases, a work may be considered to be in the public domain because the copyright has expired.

There are exceptions, though. For example, religious works that have been commissioned are usually owned by the church and can’t be transferred to others. Also, a faithful reproduction of a two-dimensional piece of art is not considered to be in the public domain in most jurisdictions.

The organization’s policy is to only accept media on Wikimedia Commons that are in the public domain in at least the United States and in the country of origin of the work. Consequently, the organization requires that the license under which a piece of media is released be clearly indicated on its description page by means of a copyright tag. The description page should also include information that is required by the license (author, etc.) and be sufficiently comprehensive to allow other people to verify the license status of the media.

Royalty Free

While the name might be misleading, a royalty-free image isn’t really free. Instead, it’s licensed for a fee that varies by stock photo agency. In addition to the licensing fees, the agency also retains copyright for the image. If the image is used for commercial purposes, the agency may have restrictions on its use. These terms can include the number of times it may be used, the type of media it can be displayed on, and whether or not the image can be altered.

Often, the images on these sites are a combination of photos and vector graphics. They’re often used to enhance creative projects like brochures, posters, and presentations. They can also help make text-heavy content more engaging and increase traffic on a website. These types of images are also great for use on social media.

Royalty-free images are a great option for most creative projects, but there are some restrictions on what you can do with them. These restrictions are typically outlined in the license agreement. For example, you might not be able to use an image for a trademarked logo or in product packaging without purchasing a special license. You should always read the license agreement carefully to ensure that you’re not violating the terms of the agreement.

Many of the biggest stock image sites offer royalty-free images, but there are also a few smaller ones that have a great selection of unique photos. One of these is Morguefile, which has a large selection of black and white photos and other unique pictures. Another is New Old Stock, which specializes in vintage and old-made images.

Another great option is Pixabay, which has a huge database of royalty-free images that are available for both personal and commercial use. This site also offers other content, such as videos and vector graphics, which can be used in a variety of ways. Pixabay uses a Creative Commons Zero license, so you can use the images without attribution.

Another benefit of royalty-free images is that they’re ready to use as soon as you download them. This can save a lot of time and money when creating a design project. The downside is that you must pay a fee for each use of the image. If you’re working on a big project, this can add up quickly.


If you need an image for a project, there are several options. You can use a free image from the public domain, search Creative Commons images with varying levels of restrictions, or pay for a royalty-free photo through a stock agency.

While there are many sources for free images, not all are created equal. Some have strict quality control and others have a wide range of usability limitations, like requiring attribution or restricting image size. If you have a specific image need, it’s important to find an appropriate source.

A quick online search can produce a lot of results. You can find searchable image databases, create-your-own image tools, and other resources. We recommend checking out UT’s Image Relay, which is a searchable library of high-quality images and graphics. It’s a great resource for UT departments, student or faculty presentations, and general campus communications.

Another good source of free images is Wikimedia Commons, the site run by the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia. You can search the whole database, or narrow down your search by using the license dropdown. Use this to filter images by their CC license type, and choose “Public Domain” or “Any license” to get to the most appropriate images.

There are many other good options, too, including: Vecteezy, Pixabay, Shutterstock, and Burst. The latter offers free, high-resolution photos and videos for commercial and non-commercial use. It also has a new Gender Spectrum collection, which provides images of people across the gender spectrum to help media better represent members of these communities.

It’s important to note that “Royalty Free” doesn’t mean “Free.” When you find an image on a Royalty-Free license website, you have to pay a one-time fee for the rights to use the photo, not every time you reuse it.

No matter which type of license you choose, it’s best to stick with the original version of the image you’re using. Simple changes, such as flipping a photo or changing its color, can violate the terms of the licensing agreement. And if you’re planning large-scale print projects or are using images of recognizable people, you may need additional permissions.

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