If you have used a picture you’ve found on the web on any of your printed literature, on your website or blog, or even on your social media accounts then the following information is a must read for you.

Did you know that if you do not have either a paid licence or a written confirmation that you can use an image that you are open to being sued for copyright infringement?

Of course the likelihood of one image being found on your website, when there are thousands of others out there doing the same thing, may be quite small, but it is still happening around the globe and people and businesses alike are being stung for anything from £500-£10,000 and up for use of one image.

So how do you know if an image is copyrighted?

A good rule of thumb is to class every image you see, photographic or illustration, as a copyright image and so if you wish to use it you would need to gain permission from the creator of the image or buy a licence to use it.

How on earth would the image be found on my own website?

There is the old fashioned way, a photographer sees their image on your website and gets in touch. There are also other ways – we are in the digital age and there are some very clever little robots out there that are programmed to scan your server to find images. Once they find them they check for licences on the stock website’s database and if there isn’t one then you may receive a legal letter.

So for example, you may have found an image on Google Images and used it in a post on your blog. You may have even cropped it so it shows a close up and is not the exact same image originally downloaded. This can still be found! And if you do not have a valid licence for this image you can be asked to remove the image from your website. Not only that but you may also be charged for infringement of copyright and be charged for this. It is not unusual for companies to ask for £1000+ for this.

But I didn’t know…

This is what many an unsuspecting blogger has said upon receipt of such a letter and sadly ignorance, in this case, is not bliss. Whatever your intentions, if you have used an image that you do not have permission to use, you are in effect ‘stealing’ this image and you are liable.

Copyright is in place to protect the creatives that produce the works and applies to more than just images. It is in place to ensure that when you create something that you can ensure that it is protected and that you can be paid for your work. So it’s completely understandable and right, it can just be a bit of a maze to navigate when you’re not ‘in the know’.

What is ‘Fair Use’?

There is a legal clause that states that an image can be used without a licence if it is for ‘fair use’. This is a shady area and it would be worth seeking legal advice if you’re going down this route. Fair Use means that you could make a copy of part or all of a copyrighted work, even where the copyright holder has not given permission or objects to your use of the work. This can include use for commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship but it’s definitely something to research more if this is something that applies to you.

So where can you get images for free?

Wikimedia Commons

Images in the Public Domain

Flickr Creative Commons images (check the licence and how you need to credit the image before use)

Dreamstime (also linked to below) also offer a range of free images


FREE Images

Free Range Stock

Take your own photos

Also some stock photography sites offer free downloads as well as paid ones – this is a great site that I recently discovered: Pixabay  |  Morgue File

You can search on Google Images with the ‘advanced search’. If you wish to do this then enter your search query and then click on the ‘cog’ icon (top right next to the ‘safe search’ button) and this will show a drop down menu. Click on the ‘advanced search’ and then scroll down to the option ‘usage rights’ and click to choose from the list. Select the option ‘free to use, share or modify, even commercially’ and then click the blue ‘advanced search box at the bottom to take you to the results. This *should* show you only images that are available for you to use, personally or for business.

Just remember that you are responsible for the images you post and that it’s better to be safe than sorry. So do your research before you post.

You’ll also find a whole LOAD of links to sites in this article: 53+ Free Image Sources For Your Blog and Social Media Posts

I also found this blog from WPMU Dev with their top recommendations for free images too.

What other options are there out there?

There are LOTS of websites that you can buy licences to use photos from including:

iStockphoto   |  Dreamstime   |  Pixmac    |  Flickr  |  123RF   |   PhotoSpin   |  Stock.Xchng

What’s the difference between a commercial and non-commercial use?

If it’s non-commercial then it would be something that was nothing to do with business, for example you used an image you found and put it on the background of your own wedding invitation. A general rule that it would be worth sticking by, is that if you use it for your business in any way then it is most likely commercial use so remember that when looking at licencing – especially with free sites like Flickr and with ‘commons’ photos.

Beware of:

Searching on Google Images and using a photo without checking the usage

Posting and sharing pictures on social media and blogs – even when sharing you are still claiming that you have permission to use the image so bear this in mind when ‘pinning’ and posting on your business pages.

Seeing a photo, or some text, on another website and copying it to use on your own (the copyright laws also apply to text!).

Thinking that just because you put a link to the site you got the image from that you’re OK.

Using a photo on your blog and believing that it’s non-commercial – if it’s online copyright applies so check before you use it.

What should I do if I’ve got images I’ve used already?

Check where you got them from and if needed, remove them and replace them with ones you know are legally OK to use. It’s always better to be safe than sorry after all.

What about posting images on other websites?

If you upload an image to another website, for example for an article or event, then you are still liable for that image as the website will, in most cases, state clearly in their terms and conditions that you are confirming ownership of an image when you upload it to the website. This means that if the image is found on their website that the legal claim would be passed to you for uploading the offending image and you would be liable for the damages.

What about Clip Art?

If you’re wondering what you can and can’t do with clip art and other images from your Microsoft software check these websites here and here for more info.

The main points are:

“If you use Microsoft Office.com or the Microsoft Office Web Apps, you may have access to media images, clip art, animations, sounds, music, video clips, templates, and other forms of content (“media elements”) provided with the software available on Office.com or as part of a service associated with the software. You may copy and use the media elements in projects and documents. You may not: (i) sell, license, or distribute copies of the media elements by themselves or as a product if the primary value of the product is the media elements; (ii) grant your customers rights to further license or distribute the media elements; (iii) license or distribute for commercial purposes media elements that include the representation of identifiable individuals, governments, logos, trademarks, or emblems or use these types of images in ways that could imply an endorsement or association with your product, entity or activity; or (iv) create obscene works using the media elements. For more information, see the Use of Microsoft Copyrighted Content webpage (http://www.microsoft.com/permission).”

Some other articles that may be of interest about copyright of images:


If you do not own the image then be sure you are legally able to use it before you add it to any websites, personal, retail or social.

Check your own websites, blogs and social media to ensure that you are happy that all the images that you have used are legally owned or licences for your use. If they’re not then remove or replace them.

If you are not sure, find out more before you take action.

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