Blog posts, articles, events – nearly everything posted on the internet gets clicked, opened, read, and shared more if it includes a compelling image. But where to get the perfect image to go along with your brilliant new post? This post covers how to download images for use online and avoid copyright infringement.

1. Find for images that are available under Creative Commons Zero license

CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication means that the person who owns the copyright of the image has dedicated it to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law. You can freely post, change, distribute, and download these images, even for commercial purposes.

Where to find images dedicated to public domain? Unsplash might be the most popular site for CC0 images. Every single gorgeous picture at unsplash.com is safe for you to download and use as you wish, with no attribution. You could even print an Unsplash image on a tee shirt, and mass produce that shirt without legal repercussion. Creative Commons Zero is a beautiful thing.

Here are other sites that are dedicated to offering images under CC0:

Public Domain Pictures
Pixabay
Splitshire
1millionfreepictures
Viintage
Gratisography
Little Visuals
Public Domain Pictures
New Old Stock
Public Domain Archive

Beautiful as these images are, they are often not very specific, titled “White Flower” or “Waves,” and sometimes we need an image of a specific place or thing.

2. Search for specific images governed by Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

To find a specific image, search for a term, such as Lupinus ludovicianus. Select Images, then click Search Tools, then select Labeled for Reuse with Modification.

sourcing images online img

As you can see, the accuracy of the search results may be mixed. All of the images you see are “labeled” for reuse, but you still have to honor the terms of the license.  Click through to the page for any image and find the license and terms. (I like it when I find a good image on Wikipedia or Wikimedia – I feel a bit safer downloading from these sites.) Many of these images may be offered under CC3.0. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 terms:

creative commons terms img

This means you can download and use this image, but you must show the copyright owners name and link back to the page and/or license.

3. Keep your images organized with source and license

When I use images that have such terms, I make a screenshot of the page that includes the image and the license and save that screenshot with the same name as the image in a folder I call Attribution Required.

This is a lot of extra work, but will help me to be in compliance with the license months or years after I’ve closed the browser window. It would also help me defend my use of the image if ever questioned.

If you don’t know how to make a screenshot, you can just print the page to PDF by right-clicking, or (Ctrl-click on a Mac).


Disclaimer: This information is my interpretation and should not be construed as legal advice. Please seek legal council before taking action.


See also: Don’t Get Mugged by Copyright Thugs – Three Essentials Truths to Avoiding Copyright Infringement