Top Six (Really) FREE Image Sites

20 Feb 2019


With the Internet’s seemingly endless stream of images for any given subject, it’s hard to know which ones are free to use, and which ones are protected by strict copyrights.

Seeing a large watermark on an image is generally a good indication that the image you are looking at is copyrighted.

But what if there is no obvious copyright watermark? And what if you are able to click on the image and save it to your computer? Does that mean that you are legally permitted to use that image for your personal websites or blogs?

The answers to these questions are not always clear, and even when you think you are following the right steps to make sure you are using an image that is not copyrighted, images that seem to be copyright free are sometimes only copyright free in certain situations.

The Sticky Details of Copyright Laws

Unfortunately, image copyright laws can be complicated to navigate. And violating those copyright laws can lead to penalties and expensive lawsuits.

Sure, there is a chance that the image you use will never be discovered. But the reality is that whoever took that picture or created that image deserves to be properly credited and compensated for their work.

That is where copyright licenses, and the laws that protect them, come into play.

There is a huge array of different copyright licenses that control how and when images can be used.

Some licenses are very restrictive, while others allow open and free use of the image.  The trick is figuring out which license your image is covered by, and what that license allows and prohibits.

For example, Flickr images are protected under eight different types of Creative Commons copyright licenses. The particular license used for each individual image is up to the discretion of whoever created or owns the image.

So, when using Flickr images, it is important that you find out which Creative Commons license is applicable to the particular image that you wish to use.

Types of Copyright Licenses

While there are a number of copyright licenses out there, some of the most commonly found licenses are:

  • All Rights Reserved: With this license, the copyright holder reserves all rights provided by copyright law. This includes the right to make copies, distribute the image, and license or otherwise exploit their work; no rights are waived under this license.
  • Royalty Free: A royalty free license allows you to use the image without having to pay any kind of royalty. Royalty free images are generally found on stock-photo sites, where the royalty has been paid already through your membership to the site.
  • Public Domain Work: Images classified under the Public Domain have been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law. This means that the image is free to be used for all purposes, without needing to seek permission or pay a fee.
  • Attribution: If an image is covered by the Attribution license, it may be used for personal or commercial purposes, as long as the user gives proper credit, provides a link to the license, and indicates whether any changes were made to the original image.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike: Like the Attribution license, this license allows free use of the image with proper attribution. It also requires that if you change or build upon the image in any way, you must distribute your contribution under the same license as the original.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs: Again, this license follows the same rules as the Attribution license; however, if you make any changes to the original, you may not distribute the modified image.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial: With the NonCommercial clause to the Attribution license, you may only use the image for personal use. The image may not be used for commercial purposes.

Educating yourself on exactly what these licenses cover, and making sure you know which license pertains to your image, is imperative if you wish to avoid any possible copyright infringements.

Penalties For Copyright Infringements

Making the mistake of using a copyrighted image without permission can hold some pretty hefty consequences.

First of all, it’s never fun to receive a scary looking “Cease and Desist” letter or an “Unauthorized Use Report” email.

Even worse, though, is when those notifices are accompanied by a demand that you pay a license fee or face further legal action.

And if you think you can get away with ignoring the notice and fee demand, think again! Failing to respond to the cease and desist can cost you a fine of anywhere from $200 to $150,000, plus attorney fees and damages.

To top it off, the image owner can take it as far as using the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to get your entire site shut down.

So, How do you Know if Images are Truly Copyright Free?

The only way to know for sure is to check into the license for the particular image that you want to use.

When using sites such as Flickr or Shutterstock, each individual image should have a licensing agreement that explains whether or not the image can be used, for what purpose it may be used, and whether or not there is a fee associated with its use.

However, if you are simply doing a Google image search, the license information is not always easy to find.

Often, it is nearly impossible to find out who actually owns the license for many of the images.

And although it is possible to set Google parameters to show only copyright free images, there is no guarantee that the images that are shown are truly copyright free.

For this reason, we recommend that you always choose your images from a site where licensing information is clearly posted and easy to understand.

While there are many different image sites to choose from, these are our top six favorite sites for free images:


Not only do these sites contain breathtakingly beautiful images, they all also clearly state that their images are available for both commercial and non-commercial use and that credit to the photographer is not required but is, as always, appreciated.

And the best part? Sticking to one of these sites for your image searches will ensure that you can have peace of mind in knowing that you will not be in jeopardy of unknowingly committing a copyright infringement.

 **Note: While the sites we recommend do have copyright free images, it is always important to read the fine print before using an image. Although the image itself may be free to use, some of the things depicted in the images (such as identifiable people, landmarks, or trademarked logos) may have other copyrights or trademarks that require consent from a third party.

Jennifer Rizzo 
Jennifer Rizzo, also known as "Rizzo," is a Denver-based writer with a passion for writing, genealogical research, travel, and languages. She studied Spanish at the University of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico and also lived and studied in Ancona, Italy. In addition, she holds a certification for International Tour Management through the International Guide Academy. Since joining The Writers for Hire, Jennifer has written on vast array of topics and has done many in-depth genealogical research and family tree projects. She has worked as Project Manager for various client projects, including: family history books, websites, RFPs, blogs, autobiographies, and SOPs. She enjoys working closely with clients, and loves any opportunity that allows her to indulge her creative side.

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