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Business LibreTexts

5.26: Using Images Legally

  • Page ID
    46146
  • Learning Outcome

    • Discuss how to legally source images for your communications

    All of the images you see on the internet are someone’s property, and if you copy them and paste them into your communication, you’re most likely stealing (unless the images are royalty-free or free, as we’ll discuss below). Additionally, the Fair Use Act makes it okay to use an image “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research….” If your work falls into one of those categories, you’re safe. Otherwise, your use of the image is considered a violation of copyright law.

    Royalty-Free Images

    Luckily, there are royalty-free sources of images, videos, and other visual media out there. (A royalty is a payment made to the copyright owner for each use that doesn’t fall under the Fair Use law.) A word of caution: “royalty-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “free.” On the contrary, sites like Getty Images or Shutterstock often charge licensing fees and even instructions by which you give the original artist credit for his or her work. But once that transaction is complete, the visual media is yours to use as you wish. There’s no need to pay royalties for copies sold or time of use.

    Open Images

    There are plenty of free sources out there, though. Some authors and artists have “released” their works under an open license. This means their works are free to use, modify, and share.

    Many of them work with a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a US not-for-profit organization that’s devoted to expanding the range of creative works available to the general public, and it does so by providing copyright licenses to creators allowing them to express which rights they want to reserve and which they waive. These licenses replace individual negotiations between artist and user. In many cases, images covered by the Creative Commons license can be used free of charge if you simply credit the artist. This might mean captioning your photo with “Joe Photographer/Getty Images” or “Credit: Joe Photographer.” You can learn more about the different Creative Commons Licenses on their site.

    All of the images and text in this course are licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can check out the “Licenses and Attributions” link on any page of this course to see examples of proper attribution of Creative Commons works.

    A screenshot of the Licenses and Attributions section of a Lumen Learning course page.
    Figure 1. Example of attributing an author’s work

    Finding Open Images

    • Pixabay:There are over a million free stock photos to choose from on this site, all high quality and high resolution.
    • Unsplash:This site has a great selection of business photos to choose from. This website has the option of signing up for an email service to get ten free photos in your inbox every ten days.
    • Flickr:There’s a section of free use photos here as well, about 415 million of them under the Creative Common license. You simply need to filter your Flickr search by license (Figure 2).
    A screenshot of the Flickr website with the permissions drop down menu open. The items on the menu include, "Any license, All creative commons, Commercial use allowed, Modifications allowed, Commercial use & mods allowed, No known copyright restrictions, and U.S. Government works." The "Commercial use allowed" option is selected. In the background are photos of various types of birds.
    Figure 2. Filtering Flickr for permissions
    • Google Images. A simple Google image search now has the function of searching for image based on usage rights. Click on “Tools” and then the “Usage rights” will appear for you to choose the type of license that fits your needs.
    A screenshot of the Google Images page with the Usage Rights dropdown menu open. Options include, "Not filtered by license, Labeled for reuse with modification, Labeled for reuse, Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification, Labeled for noncommercial reuse." The "not filtered by license" option is selected. In the background are photos of the Capitol Building.
    Figure 3. Filtering a Google Image search by license
    CC licensed content, Original
    • Products and Resources for Finding Images. Authored by: Freedom Learning Group. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
    • Screenshot of Licenses and Attributions. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution