By Warren Lutz – Contributing Writer
If you need art for your blog or marketing project, there are billions of images online. Of course, most of them actually belong to somebody – but not all of them.
In fact, there are a growing number of free public domain images available that can be great alternatives to stock photography. But if you are going on an image quest in the public domain, there are still some things you ought to know.
What is considered public domain?
Putting international implications involving copyright aside for a moment, the “public domain” generally refers to anything that is free from copyright. This could be a photo that was once copyrighted, but the copyright expired. Or maybe the holder of the copyright released his or her rights.
Public domain images are indeed free. You are still obligated to attribute the work to the creator or source to avoid plagiarism. Otherwise, you can do whatever you want with them.
Where do I find them?
Do a search for “public domain images” and you’ll find a ton of sites. Wikipedia has a very detailed list. In fact, some (certainly not many or most) of the images on Wikipedia have been released to the public domain, and most images on U.S. government websites are considered to be in the public domain.
But for both Wikipedia and .gov websites, DON’T assume all images are in the public domain. Many images on Wikipedia are still owned by the creator and used under Creative Commons licenses (more about them here.) A government agency, for example, could also own the rights to use an image that is still owned by the original author.
When searching on Wikipedia, a .gov website, or anywhere else, look for disclaimers regarding the images you’re interested in, or information that is tagged to the image itself. If you are unsure, contact the source.
One of the purposes behind copyright laws is to protect creators from having their works stolen or used without permission. Even if someone doesn’t care what happens to his or her work, that person still owns it, and it’s wrong to take it and reuse it without permission.
Images that are licensed under Creative Commons, Apache, MIT or other standards will allow you to use images under certain conditions. This does not mean the image is in the public domain.
Think you found the perfect image? Hold up. Even if it’s considered to be in the public domain, there’s a slight chance that somebody—maybe even your competition—is already using it.
One way to find out is to use Google Images, where you can find out all the places the image exists—as well as different versions and sizes of the same image. (Read more about this tip here.)
While public domain images are a fantastic, cost-effective way to jazz up your blog or project, caution is warranted. But if you set aside time and do your research, you can find some amazing stuff that costs nary a penny. So with a bit of resourcefulness and research, you can start bagging some images!