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Where to get free images online? Our guide.

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Where to get free images online? Here's what you need to know

Many people struggle sometimes when it comes to knowing where to get free images online... This may help!

find free images online - image of a camera on a frozen lake

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash


Introduction - Where to get free images online


Businesses today are continually creating a host of new content for a variety of purposes. Whether it's:

  • news posts
  • blogs
  • emails
  • social media posts
  • physical marketing collateral like leaflets and booklets


Any business worth its salt wants these pieces of content to look great.

And a big part of that is adding some visual interest to the content in question. Images are always a key staple in pieces of work as they attract readers eyes to content and images can also provide a clearer picture in the reader's mind to explain something.

However, it is important that images used in these contexts are owned by the business or individual in question - or if this isn't the case, the business has express permission to use the image.

If not, a copyright infringement claim can occur. This can result in a disruptive legal dispute, costs and damages and also a loss in reputation.

This post explains how copyright affects images, the key considerations that come into play, how licenses work and some strategies that you can deploy to find free images online.



How does copyright affect images?


Copyright is an unregistered right that protects original creative works.

Copyright comes into existence at the point where an original creative work is made. Copyright protects the original characteristics of work such as original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work (including illustration and photography).

As such, copyright is the main intellectual property right that comes into play concerning images and their use.

Every image that is created is subject to copyright. The owner of the copyright is, generally speaking, the creator of the image - so long as it's an original image.

There are certain exemptions to this, the most important of which is that if an image is created by an employee, it is the business that owns the copyright in the image.

For more information about copyright click here to read our FAQ, What is Copyright?

It is important to make sure that images that you do make use of, that:

  1. you either own the copyright yourself
  2. the license that the image is made available under, allows the kind of usage that you're planning for
  3. you obtain permission and a license to use the image in the manner you planning to



How do I know which images are free to use?


The first step is to find out the copyright status of the images that you're looking to use.

You need to know who has the ability to grant the license over its use and what license options are available.

Important: every image is subject to copyright, whether or not the image displays a copyright notice. Copyright is an automatic, non-registered right.

Copyrighted images may include watermarks such as an image creator's name or logo. It may also include a copyright notice, which consists of the letter "C" in a circle, and attribution of the copyright holder. This alongside the use of techniques such as a watermark, shows also shows that the image creator is seeking to protect the image from unauthorised use.

If you wish to use an image that has the copyrighted symbol you will likely need to get in contact with the owner of the copyright to discuss usage.

Lastly, researching an image is a good way of checking whether it is free to use. You can reverse search images by clicking ‘images’ then clicking the small camera at the end of the search bar.

From here you click ‘upload an image which allows you to upload images you have saved. Then within seconds, Google will provide more information that can help you identify whether the image is free to use or not. The key here is to understand how different licenses apply to images.


Different kinds of image licenses


When people make images available online for other people, they often do so in accordance with different types of a standard license. This determines the ways in which other people who come across the image online are able to use them.

Creative Commons licenses are a common example of a range of licenses that people may attribute to their images. A list of the 6 main licenses can be found here.

As a brief overview these include:

  1. CC BY (Attribution) - allows for the free use of the image in a range of commercial contexts so long as it attributes the original image in question
  2. CC BY-SA (ShareAlike) - allows for the free use of the image including commercially, so long as attribution is given and that the resulting creations are distributed under identical terms.
  3. CC BY-ND (No Derivatives) - allows for use of the work even in commercial contexts, however, it cannot be shared in any adapted form. Attribution must also be provided.
  4. CC BY NC (Non-Commercial) - allows for free use and adaptation, however, must attribute the image-creator and is not allowed to be used in commercial contexts.
  5. CC BY NC SA (Non-Commercial, ShareAlike) - Combines #4 and #2 as above. Requires attribution.
  6. CC BY NC ND (Non-Commercial, No Derivatives) - Combines #4 and #3 - the most restrictive of creative commons licenses. Requires attribution, but cannot be adapted in any way or used in a commercial capacity.

As such, these examples demonstrate that when it comes to the legitimate use of images online, the ways in which you can use images is determined by the license that they are shared under. Note also that Creative Commons licenses are not the only licenses that images may appear under - and that different image-creators may determine the ways that their images can be used differently.

Licenses such as these also demonstrate that even when images are available for free online - the image creator may have placed limitations upon how they can be used which are important to follow.


Are google images free to use on my website?


You may be looking for free images online but are unsure about where to begin.

Many will begin a search by using search engines such as Google or Bing.

A Google image search can be tailored to make sure that image results that are displayed are those which are marked as free to use.

The first step is to open the settings tool under the search bar, from their click the advanced search button.

From here you will be brought to the advanced search options. This will give you options to fine-tune your image search.

The main search filter you are looking for is ‘Usage rights’ this will give you multiple options on choosing what images are free to share, modify or to use commercially.

By applying this filter, you will be presented images that are free to use for the search filter you applied.

It is important to note, however, that this is not a failsafe way of finding free images - as whilst the person who uploaded may claim the copyright in their image, they themselves may not be the rights holder. Errors in judgment in this regard can lead to a secondary infringement. For more information about copyright infringement, read our FAQ What is Copyright Infringement?



More ways of finding free images online


In case you don’t find the images you were looking for on Google images there is another way.

Stock photo websites are a great way of finding free images to use. Some websites such as those listed below have a library of images available that are free to use under certain conditions.

The popularity of these websites allows the website owners to pay image creators an amount of money for their images which they have received from advertising revenue or otherwise.

These are not to be confused with other kinds of image libraries such as Thomson Reuters Connect or Getty Images, where image licenses are bought at cost. 

Websites where you can download images that are free to use include:

These are some good examples of free stock photo websites (note: some have premium offerings too, so be sure to check).

You can search in keywords regarding the images you are looking for and the website will provide images in the subject that are free to use.

Do, however, be aware of any of the restrictions that the license they are made available under ask of you if you use them e.g. attribution of the image creator. 

Hopefully, these websites help you find some images you’re looking for.



are Wikipedia images copyright free?


Yes and no. According to Wikipedia, they say:

You can use images that are freely-licensed images, provided you comply with the individual image's license terms. While all article text is licensed under the GFDL, free images have several free content licenses to choose from. See Wikipedia:Image copyright tags/Free licenses for the many possibilities. You can use them on any appropriate page on Wikipedia. You can even use them outside of Wikipedia, such as on a website, in printed material, anywhere! All "free" image licenses allow these uses, provided you follow the license's terms for attribution and usage, as there could be penalties if you don't."

Source: Wikipedia



Copyright Infringement


If you receive a complaint that you are using a copyrighted image for your own commercial use or you suspect someone is using your copyrighted work or their own use without permission, there is no need to worry.

We have a detailed FAQ on copyright infringement that will help you understand more about the legal altercations regarding copyright infringement.

We highly recommend you take a read on this FAQ to help you improve your knowledge of a situation you may find yourself in. Click here to read the FAQ.


Lastly, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us if you require a world-class intellectual property service. We are here to help and advise.


Get in Touch



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.


Disclaimer: This FAQ should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only. You are urged to consult your solicitor on any specific legal questions you may have.

To get in touch with our team for intellectual property support click here.​

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