What Kind of Images Are Copyright-Free?

What kind of images are copyrightfree

Copyright is a legal term indicating ownership of photos, music, paintings, writings and other intellectual physical or non-physical creations. It also applies to software code.

Free images are either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. Rights-managed photographs, on the other hand, usually require a one-time fee for multiple uses and may require a model or property release.

Public Domain

Public domain images are not protected by copyright and can be used for any purpose. They exist because their copyright has either expired, been forfeited, or expressly waived by the creator. This is an important distinction because it means that you can use them without having to worry about infringing on anyone’s rights or having to get permission from the creator.

These types of images are great for a wide range of uses including creating infographics, blogs, and social media posts. There are plenty of sites that curate public domain photos. For example, Unsplash has an excellent collection of high-quality free images that you can use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Their photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, meaning you can modify and distribute them as you please without worrying about attribution or fees.

Another excellent source for free, high-quality public domain images is Pixabay. They have a huge library of royalty-free images, illustrations, art, audio and videos. You can search by keyword, category or even by color to find exactly what you’re looking for.

While many of these images are public domain, it’s important to check the licensing terms carefully. For example, if you’re searching for a photograph of a famous work of art such as the Mona Lisa, it may not be in the public domain depending on whether it was ever registered. This is why it’s essential to do your research before using any image online.

If you’re looking for more inspiration for your next design project, try checking out these 20 resources and tools for finding and creating copyright-free images. They include sites that have searchable photo libraries, tools that let you create your own images from scratch, and more. They also cover everything from CC0 and Public Domain images to creative commons images and more. So whether you’re just starting out or are a professional designer, these tools and resources can help you get the right images for your projects. With a little time and effort, you can make your next project stand out from the crowd with impactful images that won’t cost you a fortune.


In general, images, music and other content that is not labeled as royalty-free require permission from the creator or payment of royalties. This means that you must be careful when sourcing these pieces of content, as failing to do so could result in copyright infringement. The infringement itself does not have to be blatant, but could simply be a failure to pay or credit someone for their intellectual property. Whether or not you face legal consequences will depend on the terms of any licensing agreements, which will typically include a statement about commercial use and other restrictions.

The good news is that royalty-free images are available from image libraries, which provide a unique service by allowing individuals and businesses to license photos for one-time payments without having to pay ongoing royalties. These image libraries often have a large selection of stock photography that can be filtered or sorted by orientation, media type and more. Some have packages for premium content, but the best sites are those that allow users to choose individual images or even single vector graphics.

There are also a number of new websites that offer hand-selected royalty free images for private and commercial use, including Burst (by Shopify) and Reshot (created by entrepreneurs). They may require a pre-paid subscription or an account, but these services will let you search through all of their royalty free photos quickly and easily.

Imagery is important in every business, especially on the web. It can help people navigate a website, find specific information or products and services, make an emotional connection with a brand or product, and encourage action. In fact, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a single piece of compelling visual content can increase conversions by up to 80%.

But creating compelling imagery isn’t always easy, especially if you need to shoot original content yourself or pay a professional photographer. There’s no shortage of tools to make the job easier, but the quality of the end result can vary widely. That’s why so many business owners turn to royalty-free image databases, which can be searched and sorted in a variety of ways.


Rights managed images, also known as RM images, are licensed for use under a one-time fee with limited usage terms. They can be used in specific ways at a particular time and place (like for a website, but not in print or on social media). If the photo is to be used for a different purpose then an additional license would need to be purchased, and there may be fees associated with this. Generally, these photos are higher priced than royalty free images because the photographers or stock photography agencies know that they won’t sell in large quantities and will need to be priced accordingly. They also tend to depict more of a niche subject matter that isn’t as general as an RF image (like a very unique building or street in a city, a famous person who’s not usually seen or photographed in much and would therefore be considered a brand ambassador for the photographer/stock photo agency), rare species of wildlife and so on.

The pricing model for RM photos can vary greatly and is often determined by how the image will be used, for how long and whether it’s an exclusive or non-exclusive license. For example, if the image is being used to promote an event and shows people in a very recognizable way, then the photographers will usually require that each of those people sign a release form before they’re allowed to use their images. It’s not unusual for news outlets to purchase a Rights Managed image in order to ensure that they can then use it again if the story breaks, but this would be a new licensing agreement and a separate payment for a different type of use.

Royalty free images, on the other hand, are licenses that can be used for almost anything, without restrictions. There’s a one-time charge for the image and no recurring royalty payments required, which makes them a popular license option for many users of stock images, especially marketers who need to quickly turn around content to reach their target audience. The most common types of RF images are ones that are used for commercial purposes, like a product shot or an employee at work.

Stock Photos

Stock photos are the most familiar type of copyright-free images and they’re used in a wide range of creative projects, including websites, brochures and advertising. They’re easy to find and affordable, which makes them a go-to for designers who need to save time or money. But they also pose a unique challenge for designers who want their own work to stand out and reflect their brand authentically.

If you’re looking for high-quality, free, royalty-free stock images, consider checking out Pixabay or Pexels. Both sites have large libraries of photos curated from community submissions. They offer a variety of styles, including both standard and artsy, and don’t require attribution (unless you’re using an image from a site with special requirements).

Another popular option for free stock images is Dreamstime, which sets high standards for the quality of its contributors. Its free images are royalty-free, but you’ll need to read the license details carefully. For example, some require a credit to the artist (not ideal for commercial designs), and others may only be allowed for editorial use or for certain types of media like social posts.

Some stock photo sites have subscription options, which make it easier and cheaper to keep a stash of images for future projects. Shutterstock, for example, has a collection of over 190 million RF images and vectors. Their simple pricing model includes one-time purchase prices, weekly and monthly subscriptions and image packs to buy on demand.

While stock photos can be a great resource for design and marketing professionals, they’re often criticized for not being original or reflecting real life. They can also be overused, which can cause them to look generic or fake. To avoid this, try adding some custom elements to the images you’re using. Whether it’s a filter, some graphics or text, it can help you make the image your own and ensure it’s not too similar to other images out there. Then, you’ll be able to use it in your own unique way and your customers will recognize the authenticity of your work.

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