You’ve been working on a blog post for days.

It’s a good topic and you’ve finally perfected it. Time to celebrate, right? Not so fast. You still have to format it and find at least one image related to your article.

You do a quick Google image search and find exactly what you’re looking for. You download it and drop it into WordPress. The whole process takes 60 seconds.

Does this sounds like you?

How does a $4000 fine sound?

Even if you’re careful and you always check the copyright, you can still get nailed for infringement. Even if your blog doesn’t make money. Even if you link to the image author. Even if you don’t have any readers. Even if you take it down.

The reality is, this happens every day. Heck, it even happens to professional copywriters.

What You Need to Know About Image Copyright

Copyright is a complicated topic. It can get messy pretty quickly.

Especially on the Internet. While the Internet is a global community, different countries still have different laws when it comes to copyright.

While the laws and rules may change depending on location, it’s important to understand what the terms mean.

1. Fair Use

Fair use is an exception to copyright law that allows for the use or partial use copyright material. Under certain circumstances, material can be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder. For example, if you’re writing a book review, you can go ahead and use an official image of the book without fear of reproach.

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

2. Public Domain

Public domain refers to the state of belonging or being available to the public as a whole, especially through not being subject to copyright or other legal restrictions. If something is in the public domain you can use it at your leisure. Work gets into the public domain when the intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited, or just don’t apply. Many images go directly to the public domain, such as those from NASA and other government organizations, while others are donated by the author. Public domain works can be modified. It’s not required, but it’s good idea to indicate that image you’re using is from the public domain.

3. Creative Commons

The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

There are a variety of creative commons licenses. You’ll need to know which licence the photo has been tagged with to know how to use it. Some will require attribution, others won’t. Some will allow you to modify the image, others won’t.

4. Royalty-Free

Royalty-free, or RF, refers to the right to use copyrighted material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use or per volume sold, or some time period of use or sales. This does need it is free! It simply means once a permission has been granted you will not have to pay..again. You may still have to pay the first time. Most stock image websites are royalty-free because after you’ve paid for the image, you may use it as many times as you want in as mangy places as your want.

The easiest way to avoid all of this is the buy an image outright. But images can be expensive. Especially when you’re just starting out.

Where to Get Free Images Online

Image Databases

FreeDigitalPhotos
Download free and premium stock photos and illustrations for websites, advertising materials, newspapers, magazines, ebooks, book covers and pages, music artwork, software applications and much more. All free images are high quality, produced by their community of professional stock photographers and digital illustrators. Free photos and illustrations are ideal for business, personal and educational use. Every image is free, with an option to buy larger images at reasonable prices.

Perfect For: Small Images
Restrictions: Attribution Required

stock.xchng
SXC was launched in February 2001 as an alternative for expensive stock photography. The idea was to create a site where creative people could exchange their photos for inspiration or work. The site has evolved into the massive community you see today — there are over 2,500,000 registered users and around 400,000 photos online.

Perfect For: High-Resolution Photographs
Restrictions: Permission Required

freerange
Freerange Stock was formed with the goal to provide quality stock photos for commercial and non-commercial use. For free. We feel that free stock photos can be good photos. Freerange is an advertising revenue supported photographic community – photographers get paid when users click on the ads that appear next to their submissions. Images on the site are either shot by Freerange Stock, drawn from Freerange archives, or contributed by a talented community of photographers. We feel that the images want to be seen and good photos should be available to everyone – so we give the collections away with the hope that they will be useful and be enjoyed.

Perfect For: High-Resolution Photographs
Restrictions: Email Registration Required

Unprofound
Unprofound has grown into a global collaboration of photographers. A small group of people take photos for the site and others are invited to join in, including you. Hopefully, it will grow into a useful resource for designers everywhere. It is 100% non-profit, and there are no ads here – but if you like what I’m doing and feel the need to donate for server/bandwidth costs, there’s a button at the bottom of the page.

Perfect For: Commercial Use
Restrictions: No Restrictions

BigFoto.com
Most of bigfoto pictures have been contributed by amateur photographers who want nothing more than to see their images on the Internet. They are happy for you to use their work on your own website, as wallpaper on your computer desktop, or to print off and hang on your wall! You can even use the photos free of charge for commercial purposes.

Perfect For: Photographs of Locations
Restrictions:
Attribution Required

FreeDigitalPhotos.net
FreeDigitalPhotos.net offers you a unique way to download photos and illustrations. ALL the images on our website are available free of charge, for business, personal, charitable or educational use. These free images are small sized, but perfect for websites or draft printed work. If you need a larger sized version then they are all available to buy.

Perfect For: Photographs of People
Restrictions: Attribution Required

Pixel Perfect Digital
Pixel Perfect Digital offers free stock photos, backgrounds and textures. All their images are provided under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Perfect For: Photographs of Objects
Restrictions: Attribution Required

Image*After
Image*After is a large online free photo collection. You can download and use any image or texture from their site and use it in your own work, either personal or commercial.

Perfect For: Textures
Restrictions: No Restrictions

morgueFile
Looking for high resolution stock photos for your illustration, comp or design needs? Search morgueFile for free reference images. Yes, they’re all completely free. whether you’re an illustrator, art director, instructor or looking to add a defining visual to a presentation.

Perfect For: Amateur Photography
Restrictions: No Restrictions

Openphoto
OpenPhoto is a niche photo sharing platform created in 1998. Their primary audience are artists, developers, teachers and students. OpenPhoto contributors offer their images for free under terms of Creative Commons licensing.

Perfect For: Artistic Images
Restrictions: Varies. Check Image

Foter
Foter.com allows you to search, manage and add free stock photos to blogs, forums, websites and other online media. We host over 190 million free Creative Commons images from many online sources and the entire system is also available as a WordPress plugin for seamless use within the WordPress platform. Searching for photos and inserting them into blog posts or articles is designed to be very fast and convenient. Just search for images by keywords and grab the embed code to insert them into your blog. The embed code contains all necessary CC attribution, that are mandatory to include, so you don’t need to contribute authors manually.

Perfect For: Searching In WordPress
Restrictions: Attribution Required

EduPic
Edupic Graphical Resource is a teacher designed free image resource for educators and their students. All images contained within are free for use by educational professionals and the students they serve without permission. All other use is by permission only. All ofther rights reserved.

Perfect For: Educational Use
Restrictions: For Education Purposes Only

Wikepedia: Public Domain Image Resources
Public domain image resources is a copy of the master wikipedia page, which lists a number of sources of public domain images on the Web. The presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain. You are still responsible for checking the copyright status of images before you submit them to Wikipedia.

Perfect For: Iconic Photographs
Restrictions: Varies. Check Image

UVic’s Language Teaching Clipart Library
This library consists of about 3000 images which we hope will be useful in the teaching of basic vocabulary in a variety of languages. The characters and objects depicted are as culturally neutral as we could make them. This is not a huge resource of graphics; its purpose is to provide a set of those graphics most basic and useful for low-level language-teaching, and at the same time, to make them as easily searchable as possible.

Perfect For: Object ClipArt
Restrictions: No Restrictions

Pics4Learning
Pics4Learning is a safe, free image library for education. Teachers and students can use the copyright-friendly photos & images for classrooms, multimedia projects, websites, videos, portfolios, or any projects in an educational setting.

Perfect For: Educational Use
Restrictions: For Education Purposes Only

Openclipart
As of 2013 the Openclipart displays the works of over 3,000 artists who have contributed over 40,000 SVG graphics. The entire collection is available for free to download. All images are dedicated to the public domain by their contributors and are stored in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format, often with thumbnails in Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format.

Perfect For: Vectors
Restrictions: No Restrictions

Pixabay
On Pixabay you may find and share images free of copyrights. All pictures are published under Creative Commonds public domain deed CO0.

Perfect For: High Quality Images
Restrictions: No Restrictions

Imagebase
Imagebase.net is a collection of photos, mostly taken by David Niblack, that can be freely used for personal, commercial, non-profit, artistic, or creative purposes.

Perfect For: Amateur Photography
Restrictions: No Restrictions

FreeFoto.com
FreeFoto.com is made up of 132549 images with 183 sections organized into 3640 categories. FreeFoto.com is the largest collection of free photographs on the Internet (link back and attribution required).

Perfect For: Photograph Collections
Restrictions
: Attribution Required

From Old Books
Over 3,400 free images from old rare antique and vintage books.

Perfect For: Old Images
Restrictions: No Restrictions

Image Search Engines

Google Advanced Image Search

Photo Pin
Photo Pin is a free tool that helps bloggers and designers find beautiful photos for blogs and websites using Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons
Please note that search.creativecommons.org is not a search engine, but rather offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organizations.

Compfight
Compfight is an image search engine tailored to efficiently locate images for blogs, comps, inspiration, and research. They make good use of the flickr API, but aren’t affiliated with flickr.

Icon Finder
Iconfinder provides high quality icons for web designers and developers in an easy and efficient way. The site launched in 2007 as the first search engine focused on icons.

flickrCC
I wrote flickrCC so I could easily find photos on flickr that were released under the creative commons license. Stuff that I could use for my experiments with the GIMP or include in my blog.

FlickrStorm
FlickrStorm is a better search for Flickr! It works by looking for more than what you enter to find related and more relevant images… Be surprised!

Veezle
Search for FREE Stock Photos

everystockphoto
Everystockphoto.com is a license-specific photo search engine. Currently we index and search millions of freely licensed photos, from many sources, and present them in an integrated search. Everystockphoto.com was launched in April 2006, and is owned and operated by Vibrant Software, located in Vancouver, Canada. Membership is free and allows you to rate, tag, collect and comment on photos.

Wylio
We’re the super sonic, thrifty, all-in-one picture finder, re-sizer and attribution builder for bloggers. A lean, scrappy, bootstrapping web start-up, we’re located in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee.

Sprixi
We arrange images into topics and order images by usefulness. Sprixi sources images from quality sites around the web and brings them together. Currently we use images from Flickr and OpenClipArt. Images on Sprixi generally have liberal licences such as Creative Commons or are in the public domain.You can choose from multiple sizes with one click. We make it simple to download or link to the image. Sprixi can even generate HTML code for your blog.