The primary driver of this worry is always, without fail, images. Unfortunately, it can be an absolute minefield to avoid infringing on someone’s copyright when using images to illustrate your posts online.
It behooves any online content creator to figure out exactly how to search for copyrights for images online – making sure you do not accidentally infringe anyone’s licensing.
In this article, we will break down some top methods of checking if an image is copyrighted. These methods range from some quick general searches to some very granular and technical practices you can use Google easily to track down copyright.
This article includes ways you can be sure that an image is not under copyright if you are looking for it.
Hopefully, these methods will also allow you to figure out exactly who holds the copyrights of each image, which will help you contact them if you need to use it.
So, if any of that at all interests you, then read on as we break down the easiest ways to check if an image is copyrighted!
Checking for Copyrighted Images on Google
One of the easiest ways to check if an image is copyrighted online is to enter it into Google images.
This search will give you search results ranked according to often used tags, which may give you some indication of whether or not the creator has tagged their images with “copyrighted.”
For example, if you were looking for images of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., you might enter “World War II memorial” into Google images. You will most likely come across thousands of results, most of which are most certainly not copyrighted.
If, however, you were to search something like “World War II memorial D.C.” (and use this method sparingly), you may very well be able to find images tagged with “copyright.” Frequently, someone who has taken the time to upload an image of their own will tag it with relevant terms to be found easily by others.
So, if you are looking for copyrighted images, using Google images is one of your best bets.
You can also search for images with copyright symbols. In this case, you want to make sure the image has one of the four copyright symbols:
© ® © ™
Looking for symbols is an excellent way to ensure that if someone creates an image, they hold full copyrights to it.
If not, then typically, there will be no “copyright” symbol on the image at all – or it might even just say something like, “All rights reserved.”
If you intend on using copyrighted material in your posts and videos online (which we do not recommend), this would be one of the most foolproof ways of knowing whether or not it’s okay to use.
Of course, remember that if you don’t know who holds the copyright to an image, you should assume it is copyrighted.
So, if you use any of these methods and find copyrighted images, our advice would be not to post them – no matter how much you want to attribute them!
Check for Watermarks
Of course, many people will not go to the lengths to upload an image and then tag it with “copyright.”
Photos are often uploaded online by photographers who want to share their pictures without restriction and avoid tagging them with any copyright mark. You may need to look around the image itself to find any copyright notice or mark.
There are many ways that someone can mark an image with a watermark. Several free websites allow users to add basic watermarks to their images before uploading them. Typical forms of watermarks include logos, text, and even images within the photo itself.
So, if you are looking for copyrighted images, then be sure to check an image for any watermark or logo – these could indicate that it is not okay to use the photograph without permission from its creator.
Another critical thing to consider is the date on which the photograph was published or taken.
If you are looking at a photograph with no copyright mark but a date of creation, then it may be allowable to use the photo without permission. However, keep in mind that just because an image does have a publishing date, this does not mean it is automatically not copyrighted.
For example, Photos that are more than 95 years old or photos that an employee created as part of their job duties may be considered public domain and able to be used freely.
You can check dates by opening the image in Google Images, then navigating to the “Search tools” section just above the results list on the left-hand side. From there, select “Any time” in the drop-down menu below “Usage rights.”
You can also check the image’s publishing date by downloading it to your computer and opening it with any photo editing software.
For example, when using Google Images, right-click on the image itself and choose “Open Image in New Tab.” Once the image is open in a new window, you can right-click and save it to your computer.
Check with the Copyright Holder
If you can’t find a copyright mark and there is no publishing date, then the only way to tell if an image is copyrighted or not might be to contact its author. Be sure to consider whether or not the image’s creator allows for their work to be used commercially before using it in your artworks.
Some photographers allow their work to be used freely, while others might consider a small fee.
For those images that are not widely available due to a lack of a publishing date or a copyright mark, their creators likely will prefer if you don’t use them without first asking for permission.
Copyright laws vary from country to country – USA Copyright Law dictates when an image is automatically copyrighted. After this point, it is illegal to distribute that image without the creator’s permission.
For those images which are not automatically copyrighted, there are some exceptions to copyright infringement. You may use an image for educational purposes if it is part of a scientific journal or newspaper article or on your website as long as the image isn’t modified in any way.
For more information on copyright laws and terms, visit https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/index.html
Copyright Free Images You Can Use
Various websites offer copyright-free images. It’s important, however, to review the publishing rights, as there are varying licenses of how you can use an image.
Flickr: Flickr offers a “Creative Commons” search tool, which allows you to restrict or allow specific content types when searching their database. From there, you can find images that are appropriate for your needs.
Getty Images: Getty Images offers free images as part of their collection, which is provided for multiple kinds of commercial and non-commercial projects.
This site is excellent if you are looking for specific images where a more general search would turn up empty.
Suppose your goal is to create artworks that look like they’ve been printed in a book/magazine/newspaper. In that case, it’s key to keep the design of the image simple and not give away any clues that might indicate whether or not it was created electronically – such as layers, different backgrounds, etc.
Wikimedia Commons: Wikimedia Commons is an online library of images and videos that are free to download. The site allows users to upload their photographs or browse through the existing collection.
Unsplash: Unsplash offers high-resolution images that are free for personal and commercial use.
istockphoto: While most of the images on istockphoto are not free, there are many free images available as well.
PDPhoto: The PDPhoto website offers copyright-free, high-quality photos that are free for any purpose, commercial or otherwise. Be sure to read further about the licensing conditions before downloading one of their photographs.
Pexels: Pexels provides copyright-free images that are free to use, even commercially.
Kaboom Pics: Kaboom Pics offers royalty-free stock photography by a single photographer. Their site is regularly updated with new photos coming in every week, which you can sort through according to their “mood.”
Albumarium: Albumarium is a place where you can find thousands of images that are very simple and are available for personal use only – but there are no commercial restrictions on these types of images unless they require attribution. If an image is entitled “Public Domain,” then it is royalty-free.
rgbstock: rgbstock offers copyright-free images that are free to use without giving attribution back to the creator.
PixaBay: Pixabay offers copyright-free images that can be used for any purpose, whether it’s personal or commercial – and the site is updated daily with new photos!
Flickr: Flickr has a Creative Commons search tool where you can find images that are free to use commercially or otherwise, so long as you follow these guidelines.
Morgue File: Morgue File offers high-resolution images that can be used commercially – but not for stock photography.
However, if there are any questions about using a specific photo, feel free to contact their team first!
Death to the Stock Photo: Death to the Stock Photo provides high-quality, unique images designed explicitly by professional photographers to meet all of your commercial needs – and even offer mockups!
FoodiesFeed: Foodiesfeed provides copyright-free images specifically related to food & drink – which means they’re perfect for websites like blogs and restaurants.
Stokpic: Stokpic provides high-quality stock photos to use without attribution back to the photographer.
Dreamstime: Dreamstime provides high-quality images for commercial use. However, before you can download any of their stock photographs, you’ll need to create an account and make sure that they are free to use by clicking through the license agreement before using them.
Free Range Stock: Free Range Stock offers commercial use photos that are perfect if you’re looking for fresh, natural, real-life depictions of your subject(s).
Magdeleine: Magdeleine has a vast database of copyright-free, royalty-free images – so it’s definitely worth checking out.
LibreShot: LibreShot provides fully-license-free imagery by many professional photographers. Photos would be perfect for anything from design work to online publications and beyond!
Fancy Crave: Fancy Crave offers high-quality photography for commercial purposes.
Pixoto: Pixoto allows users to submit their photographs and make them available for commercial use – and photographers can receive a portion of the revenue.
PicJumbo: PicJumbo offers copyright-free stock photos that are perfect for commercial use – but they do ask photographers to tag their images with “Credits Required” if they’re not royalty-free.
Unprofound: Unprofound provides free high-resolution images for personal and commercial uses. But please remember to provide credit back to the photographer if you’re using an image commercially.
Life of Pix: Life of Pix provides high-resolution royalty-free images perfect for personal or commercial use.
Good Free Photos: Good Free Photos offers copyright-free imagery that is free to use without giving attribution back to the creator – but there are guidelines for how you should do so!
Realistic Shots: Realistic Shots provides high-quality photos, illustrations, and vectors that can be used for practically any purpose – including commercial purposes. But please remember to provide attribution back to the photographer if it’s not required!
Canstock Photo: Canstock Photo provides high-quality images for commercial use – but photographers are paid every time an image is downloaded with credits purchased through their website.
Megapixl: Megapixl offers a database of free-to-use, high-quality photos for commercial use.
How To Copyright an Image
To copyright an image, the best thing to do is include the copyright symbol (©) along with your name and the current year.
Then, it’s a good idea to add a brief description of what you’re filing for like this:
“This original photograph is hereby copyrighted and attributed to its creator – John Doe. It may not be used in any way without explicit permission from the photographer.”
So why does adding © + your name + current year matter?
Because if someone else uses your image, they either need proof that they created it before you did or proof that you gave them express consent (the original author), which would cancel out any claims you could make against them.
If no one knows who owns an image, then there’s no point in filing a copyright claim!
What is Public Domain?
Public domain can be considered “property of the public.” Images in the public domain have no copyright restrictions, so they’re free to use without giving credit back to the creator.
However, it’s important to note that some public domain images may require attribution while some do not.
It depends on whether specific information about the image has been included with its release on the web or in print.
Public domain images may be used for any purpose without permission from or providing attribution to the creator.
Some public domain images require attribution, and some do not. Please check before using them.