In simplest terms, you can re-publish images on your blog that have a Royalty-Free copyright license. That means you pay a one-time fee to publish them on your blog.
There are also many websites where image owners upload their images and allow bloggers and other publishers to re-use them for free. For example, some image owners will upload their work to a website like Flickr with a Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that was formed to offer less restrictive copyright options. There are six types of Creative Commons licenses, and each provides slightly different use restrictions as described below.
- Attribution: The image can be used, edited, and built upon as long as you credit the owner in your work.
- Attribution-NonCommercial: Same as the Attribution license but the image cannot be used in commercial work for which you receive payment.
- Attribution-NoDerivatives: The image can be used as long as it is not modified in any way and you credit the owner in your work.
- Attribution-NoDerivatives NonCommercial: Same as the Attribution NoDerivatives license but the image cannot be used in commercial work for which you receive payment.
- Attribution-ShareAlike: The image can be used, edited, and built upon as long as you credit the owner in your work and license your new creation using the same Creative Commons license as the original image.
- Attribution-ShareAlike-NonCommercial: Same as the Attribution ShareAlike license but the image cannot be used in commercial work for which you receive payment.
A simple rule of thumb to follow is this: when in doubt, don’t use the image on your blog.
You can also use images on your blog that are considered to be in the public domain. That means no one legally owns them, therefore, they are not copyrighted. For example, images that were created prior to copyright laws or images where the copyright has expired are considered to be in the public domain, and are free to use. For more information, the University of Georgia offers a great explanation of public domain.
Of course, you can always use images that you create yourself on your blog. Furthermore, if you stumble across an image that you want to use on your blog but can’t determine what copyright license applies to it, contact the owner (if you can find that information), and ask if you can republish the image on your blog with proper attribution. Many people are happy to see their work appear on credible websites and blogs as long as they get the credit they deserve.
Credit Your Sources
All of the types of copyright licenses listed above have one thing in common: you must credit the owner of the original image in your work. For bloggers, the commonly accepted way of crediting image owners is in a citation at the end of each article.
Check out the citation at the end of this article as an example. Notice how each image owner’s name is provided along with a link to the image source. Always give image owners the credit they deserve by linking to their work. If you can’t find the image owner’s name, look for a username used to upload the image to the site where you found it.
If you’d prefer, you can credit an image owner within the text of your blog post or as a caption that appears with the image. It’s your blog, so you have some flexibility on how you provide source citations. As long as you don’t forget to cite your sources or bury your citations where they’re difficult to see, you’re good to go.
Where to Find Images You Can Use
There are many free and affordable websites where you can find images to use, legallly, on your blog. Here are 10 popular sites that offer a range of free, paid, and public domain images.
1. Flickr Creative Commons Search: You can search Flickr Creative Commons to find free images to use on your blog. Keep in mind, anyone can upload any image to Flickr. That means the person who uploads an image and tags it with a Creative Commons license might not be the original owner. Beware that you could be contacted in the future by the actual image owner and asked to remove it or change the citation.
2. Stock.Xchng: Stock.xchng offers royalty-free images for free, as well as premium royalty-free images that are offered for as little as $1, depending on the size and resolution you need.
3. MorgueFile: MorgueFile provides a great collection of free images. The morgueFile photo license is a bit unique and allows you to re-use images for free, in commercial work, and without attribution as long as you don’t claim to own the image and you don’t try to resell it in any way.
4. FotoKoi: FotoKoi is a crowdsourcing site owned by morgueFile. If you can’t find an image you need, request it on FotoKoi.
5. Dreamstime: Dreamstime offers royalty-free images for free as well as images that start at just 20-cents depending on the size and resolution you need.
6. FreeFoto: FreeFoto has a smaller collection, but it’s worth looking at if you need free photos to use on your blog. All images carry the Creative Commons NoDerivatives NonCommercial and ShareAlike licenses.
7. BigStockPhoto: BigStockPhoto offers a huge selection of paid royalty-free images and video clips that start at $2.99. You buy credits and use those credits to purchase images. BigStockPhoto offers a lot of discounts, freebies, and promotions through email to members.
8. iStockphoto: IStockphoto offers a fantastic selection of royalty-free images, video clips, audio clips, and flash images starting at less than $2.00. You have to purchase credits which you can use to buy the images you want for your blog.
9. Wikimedia Commons: Wikimedia Commons includes over a million public domain images that you can use on your blog. However, some of the images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons might not be owned by the person who uploaded them. Therefore, follow the same caution provided for Flickr above.
10. University of Wisconsin Eau Claire: The University of Wisconsin maintains a list of links to sites that offer copyright free and public domain images. For example, you can find links to images from the USDA, National Parks services, FEMA, all branches of the military, the Smithsonian Institute, and more.
Susan Gunelius: Susan Gunelius is a 20-year marketing veteran and President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has authored nine books about social media, content marketing, branding, copywriting, and blogging, and she is a marketing columnist for Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com. Susan speaks about marketing, branding, and social media at events around the world and is often interviewed about marketing topics by television, online, print, and radio media organizations.