In recent years, digital cameras have become much cheaper and more widely available. This, coupled with faster Internet connections and the increase in the use of websites such as Flickr and Facebook, has made it far easier for people to create, share, access and use digital images on their websites. Using them legally is not so easy.
In this post, we will look at some of the issues you should be aware of when selecting publicly available images to use on your website. We will also look at a few examples of websites where you can obtain suitable copyright cleared images.
All images on the Internet are fair game, right?
This is a common misconception, and definitely not true! It is important to understand that the owner of the copyright for a digital image will have certain rights over how it is used, and that you need to respect these rights.
Using copyright protected images without permission could result in:
- stipulation for compulsory removal of images
- a request for payment
- potential legal action
The issues of ownership and copyright mean you may have to pay to use the image, or get permission, or credit it in a particular way. There may also be constraints on how you can use the image e.g. in what context, how many times you may use it, how you may manipulate the image etc.
It is up to you, the user, to find out if and how you may use an image without violating copyright.
So how do I find out if I can use an image?
This really depends on how you are looking for images. Let’s look at the most common ways you can find images on the Internet.
Many people rely on search engines such as Google to do all of their online searching, including image searching, but this approach can be problematic. It will certainly find images for you, but all the images you find are on other people’s websites. You will have to contact the owner of that site (if you can find any contact details) to see if you can use any images which are on their site. Of course it might be that they’ve obtained the image from somewhere else, so you will have to follow the chain through to get permission. This is almost certainly not worth it unless it’s a really good image.
Photo sharing websites
The best known of this type of site is probably Flickr. Be careful though – “photo sharing” means that images are generally made freely available to view in-situ. Permission to reuse these images in your own work is not implicit, and not always straightforward.
By default, any images uploaded to Flickr are copyright all rights reserved (meaning you can’t use the image without the permission of the copyright owner). However, Flickr also allows its users to publish images under the Creative Commons licensing scheme. Creative Commons defines a range of licenses between full copyright – all rights reserved – and the public domain – no rights reserved.
Some examples of Creative Commons licensing options are:
- Attribution. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give credit the way you request.
- Non-commercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work – and derivative works based upon it – but for non-commercial purposes only.
Free stock photo collections
One example of this type of site is Stock.XCHNG which contains hundreds of thousands of free to use stock images submitted by keen photographers. Any usage restrictions are stated clearly for each image, and often require nothing more than attribution to the image creator. The main problem with this type of site is that quantity often obscures quality, and so you can spend a long time looking for that special image.
Commercial photo libraries
Some stock photo sites make huge numbers of images available which are sold individually at a low price – often less than £1. These sites usually require you to buy credits, which you can then exchange to download images. Again these images are licensed, but the licence is usually standard for all the images on the site. So once you’ve read it and understood that the license is suitable for your use, you can download as many images as you need without having to worry about each image. One of the best known is iStockPhoto which, as well as royalty-free photographs, supplies vector illustrations, video footage, audio tracks and Flash files.
Where can I find out more about this?
JISC Digital Media is a service which exists to help the UK’s FE and HE communities embrace and maximise the use of digital media – and offer free help and advice to the these communities. They have produced a free tutorial to help with searching for images (on which this post is based) which offers more help with how to find images, and the various licensing models, as well as many more examples of sites for finding suitable images for your work.