When the Office.com Clip Art library shut down in late 2014, it was a blow to those who produce office memos, newsletters and other publications. It can be tempting to just use any images you find online, but doing so is asking for trouble, legal experts say. It is possible to find images you can legally use; it just might take a little more work.
First, remember any Office.com images you’ve downloaded in the past are still available on your hard drive. Then, try the Bing search engine—its default image search is for images licensed through Creative Commons. Google also has a search tool that makes it easy to find images you can use: From Images go to Search Tools and find Usage Rights. “Labeled for reuse” means you can use it for any work.
Using Creative Commons can be a shortcut to finding images you can use easily and often free. “I only pull images that come with the license to commercialize and modify the image,” says Ruth Carter, owner of Carter Law Firm and author of The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. “That way it’s permissible to use an image for business purposes and crop it if I wish.”
When she finds an image that doesn’t come with the license, Carter asks the copyright holder for permission to use their work. “I’ve never had anyone say no,” she says.
Be careful when using Creative Commons images with people in them, though, says Joy Butler, attorney and author of The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle. The license does not waive image subjects’ privacy and other personal rights, and use of a person’s photograph in a commercial advertisement without obtaining the person’s permission is a privacy violation or misappropriation of the person’s image.
Even if the image of a person comes with a personal release, you should verify the release is sufficient for your intended use, Butler says.
The stakes can be high if you get copyright wrong. “If you use a photo without permission, you could receive a cease-and-desist letter, a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice, a bill or be sued,” Carter says. “In the worst case scenario, you could be sued for $150,000 per image you used without permission.”
10 sites with free images
- New Old Stock (vintage photos)
- Public Domain Archive
- Good Free Photos (public domain images by the site owner)
- Pickup Image
- Gratisography (Images by photographer Ryan McGuire)
- Life of Pix
- Pexels (searchable database)
Source: “20 sites with free images for your blog or social media posts,” John Rampton, Inc.com.