Whether you’re an aspiring blogger or building a website for a business, it’s tough to escape copyright infringement in a digital age. As enticing as it might seem, you can’t simply use any image you’ve found online and throw it in your blog or use it for commercial purposes.
The bulk of the images on the web are subject to copyright, meaning the photographer or creator of a particular image retains exclusive rights to that image, and are therefore protected under federal law. Luckily, there is an entire realm of free-for-all images that fall under something called the “public domain.”
Public domain images are available to anyone and can generally be used for whatever purpose you like, even commercial use. For a variety of reasons; the copyright may have expired, the images could have been photographed by a government branch, or the owner may have just forfeited his or her rights for whatever reason.
And, although there is a ton of places to find public domain images online, many of the sites offer limited and lackluster results that are more of an eyesore than eye candy. But don’t worry! We’ve included some free stock photo platforms as well to help you find the image that you are looking for.
1. Creative Commons
Creative Commons is one of the best choices for public-domain content, whether you’re looking for photos, audio, or something else. The site’s handy search utility allows you to enter a search term in the upper-right corner and filter the results based on Flickr, Fotopedia, Pixabay, Google Images, and a number of other reputable spots for hosting photos. You can even search for images that are part of the Met Musem’s public domain collection.
Keep in the mind that the site searches for images that have Creative Commons licenses, meaning the images might not necessarily fall under public domain, but they can often still be used under certain conditions. The site should also automatically search for content that can be used commercially and otherwise, but it’s a good idea to double-check the license just to be on the safe side.
2. Wikimedia Commons
With more than 54 million media files available for free, Wikimedia is another great tool for finding different kinds of public-domain content. Users curate the elaborate site, uploading, tagging, and categorizing the files. Most of the content is available and can be modified as long as you attribute the original author or licenser.
Wikimedia features a fairly extensive list of categories, from nature to engineering, and there is even a public domain category to greater filter your results. When using the search bar in the upper-right corner, try entering “PD” before your search term to limit the results exclusively to public domain images. For instance, try searching “PD Justin Bieber” to show only public domain images of the Canadian singer.
Flickr doesn’t just house millions and millions of protected images. It is also a great source for finding Creative Commons-licensed material and some that have made its way into the public domain spectrum, as well. The site features a wide array of images and the comprehensive search function allows you to sift through images much quicker than the built-in image browser.
Many images on Flickr are free to use as long as you credit the photographer. After typing a term into the search bar, use the drop-down menu on the upper left that says “any license” and select the use you are looking for to sort the images.
Like the rest of the sites, it’s best to avoid any legal trouble by looking at what the original content owner’s restrictions on the image are. Some images on Flickr aren’t subject to copyright at all and thereby can be used for anything (including commercial purposes), while others merely require a simple attribution or hyperlink back to the source.
Unsplash has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Although it initially lacked a search button and distinct image categories, it has since expanded upon its Tumblr-like design, allowing you to quickly browse new images and scour the site based on image tags, collections, and users.
Despite these recent changes, however, the Unsplash library still features a wide array of high-resolution photos submitted by different users. Photos vary from animal close-ups and landscapes to automobiles and intimate portraits, and a host of curated and featured collections give you a means of browsing an assortment of broader topics — weddings, silhouettes, computers, etc. It remains one of the best for casual browsing, too, as the images are a bit “artsier” than those on other stock sites.
Dreamstime has a similar look and feel to Shutterstock, but includes a selection of free photos as well. The site does ask for a user sign-in, and there are some photos that require credits to download, but it does have a substantial selection of free images. In fact, compared to the other sites, Dreamstime has the best variety, given it pulls from Creative Commons and many other websites. The search is accurate, too, so long as you keep your search queries broad.
It also offers a slew of generic categories to browse through, if you’re looking for something less specific. Most of the free images also require attribution. And be prepared for the ads to actually buy an image from the stock photography company.
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