Is a picture worth 1000 words (from an attorney?)

Pictures can make a page or post more attractive and inviting. And the right picture can really make a big difference. But where do you find “that” photo? You could use Google or another search engine to find that perfect photo. And when you do, can you legally use it?

Many photos – such as those from commercial sites, and especially from stock photo sites, are almost always copyrighted and cannot be used without the owner’s written permission.

There are also many photos where the owner has released it into the public domain. Sometimes the author gives full permission to use and modify the image. Other times, the author may put some restrictions on the use, such as attributing the image to the author. This attribution is done “behind the curtain” – search engines can see the author’s information, it is not visible on the web site – it won’t disturb your design.

Creative Commons licenses

Usually when an author places some of their work in the public domain, they attribute it through one of the Creative Commons licenses. Per the CC site, “Creative Commons helps you share your knowledge and creativity with the world. Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”

How do I search for a CC-licensed image?

There are several ways to find an image (or other digital work) that has a Creative Commons license

  • try the site Wikimedia Commons – it has over 18 million freely usable media files, including images, sounds and video. Here’s an example of a Wikimedia public domain image (click on it to see full size): rainbow at Niagra Falls, public domain inage
  • when using a search engine, include the words “creative commons” in the search terms
  • start at the Creative Commons search page 

There are also sites that have free photos, and some that have a mix of free and fee-based images. Here are a few. Just be sure to read the fine print to be sure that the perfect photo is indeed free.



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