Taking ‘free’ images off the web

Taking 'free' images off the web



A number of my clients have asked me can they use images they downloaded from the web for their websites, brochures and blogs – because firstly, they are there in the public domain aren’t they? and secondly, its a local poster so surely whoever took the photo will never see it?

However, this is illegal and you are liable even if you say you didn’t know. Copy and pasting for small personal projects probably won’t get you into trouble, but using it for anything commercial such as websites or brochures could be enough for the offended party to take action. Particularly on websites where the images can be googled from anywhere in the world. And what happens if someone takes a photo of your lovely poster and puts in on Facebook? And anyway, why take the risk when you can get them for free legally?

Some people also believe that ‘Royalty Free’ means that the images are free to use. This is not true. Royalty-free, or RF, refers to the right to use copyrighted material without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use. You still have to pay for them – but only once.

You would use RF image providers such as Dreamstime.com if you need high resolution images for printed material such as brochures or posters (The websites below have less variety and are sometimes too low in resolution). Dreamstime also has some free high-resolution photos available if you credit them on your work. Make sure when you register to go to your account settings and turn off the automated subscription, which will automatically take payment when you have downloaded your limit.


There are two easy ways of getting free, legal images for commercial use.

1. Look for images that have a Creative Commons License. The only downfall of this method is that you have to credit the photographer or  blog that you got it from, like I have done on this post for the piracy image.

2. Go to websites that allow you to download free images legally.


Creative Commons is a set of licenses attributed to images which give you permission to freely reuse the content. You can find them by using either of the below methods:

a)  Go to Google Images, click the ‘Search tools’ button to the right, click Usage Rights, and select the license you’re looking for, which would be either Labelled for reuse, or Labelled for reuse with modification.

b) Use this website to search for CCL images: http://search.creativecommons.org


Over 13,000 free copyright free photos available.

Images in this gallery are low resolution but fine for use on websites.

Scroll down past the adverts to see the images available and when you click on there image it comes up on another page. Right-click and choose ‘save image as’.

When you search for an image on this site the first row is from another website (shutterstock.com) which charges for photos. But the rows below are free.

Provides many vector/graphic images.

When you search for an image the first and last row of results are from another website (istockphoto.com) which charges for photos. But there are four rows of images in between that are free to use.


Hundreds of photos in a variety of categories. After you register you can download the images without a logo on them.


You must register for a free membership and then thousands of high-resolution stock photos are available to you.