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Best Practices for Using Free Images & Where to Find Them

By Lindaluke @coachlindaluke
Best Practices for Using Free Images & Where to Find Them

When starting a new business or blog it is important to keep expenses low and one of the ways to do that is to find and use free images you don't have to pay for. It's important to be very careful that you do not unknowingly fall into a challenge with copyright infringement.

In recent years there has been an increase in businesses that send threatening letters, sometimes asking for large amounts of money for misused images. There are also companies that do this in a spammy way, but if you have used an image that you don't have the right to there is nothing you can do but try to negotiate with them. There are some people who ignore these threats, but I've never heard how that turns out in the long run.

If you are reading this, I am going to trust that you want to do things the right way. I will also assume you want to avoid accidental copyright infringement at all cost. And, it can happen by accident.

One of my clients asked for my help when he received a letter accusing him of copyright infringement for a picture he downloaded from a website that photographers shared images on. The photographer uploaded a photo that was not his, but said it was and then offered it to the public to use. My client downloaded and used it in an ad.

A year later, he received a letter from an attorney representing National Geographic that was requesting a large amount of money for his use of the image. My client was rightfully scared and asked me to step in. We learned that the website in question had since taken down the photo so he had no proof of what had happened, but the attorney believed us and negotiated a much lower settlement.

The one good thing that came out of this was that I was able to talk to the attorney about ways to prevent things like this from happening. He suggested:

  1. Using websites like Pixabay or Pexels that have excellent reputations for validating images.
  2. Taking screenshots of the images and their licenses before downloading them and keeping them in a folder for as long as they are used. Here is one example from Pixabay that shows the image and the license "Free for commercial use. No attribution required." on the right below the green download button. These screenshots will ensure you have proof that you downloaded the image in good faith even if it has been removed from the website.
Best Practices for Using Free Images & Where to Find Them
Other ways to find free images include:
  • Wikimedia Commons and other websites that offer Creative Commons images. Be sure to take a screenshot of the license on these as well.
  • Take your own pictures. There are several free resources online for editing them.
  • If you find an image you love, you can contact the photographer and ask for written permission. They may agree, especially if you offer to give them credit or mention them in a post.
  • Create your own graphics on Canva

Always double check image licenses before using images and if you have any doubt you can do a reverse image search that will show their usage history through Google or TinEye. I would recommend not using anything you are not sure of.

These are the steps that I take and I have not had any issues in 20 years, but I do need to add a little disclaimer that I can't be responsible for things changing or any of these websites continuing to provide quality service.

Taking precautions to use images only as allowed is the right thing to do. It can also prevent some serious headaches later on. Do what you can to protect yourself and protect the rights of the talented people who create images for a living. It will give you peace of mind and feel good to know you are doing what is right.


Best Practices for Using Free Images & Where to Find Them

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