Following the news that Getty Images have just taken the decision to allow images (1) on its site available for bloggers to use for free, I thought it would be timely to look at the issue of digital image copyright on the Internet and where you can find copyright free photos and images that you can use to illustrate your blog or other online material which can be seen by anyone.
It’s a massive change of direction from the company, which had previously developed a reputation for being litigious about unlicensed use of its photography, suing small organisations for infringement. Getty has not been able to stop people using and redistributing its images without permission, so it is adopting a more pragmatic approach to the question of how to make money from its images.
Using Getty’s new embed feature, bloggers can now take a photo from the world’s largest stock photo agency’s collection, such as the one of Usain Bolt above, and include it free of charge on social media. This can be done without fear of litigation, provided it is for non-commercial use. Users can choose from art-directed creative images or editorial images which includes sports events, fashion shows and celebrity gatherings like the Oscars. The company has made somewhere in the region of 59 million images, of which over half – 32,739,741 – have been made available through the new tool. Images can now be shared on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Not all of these images can be downloaded by right-clicking on the image, without the watermark, and the intention may that editing and remixing is not being encouraged. For more information on the how to use Getty’s embed code click here and for a link to those 32,739,741 images* which can be embedded click here.
While this is good news for bloggers, it is not a universally loved decision because of the large number of photographers who have already submitted their photos and make a living out of selling their snaps to the agency. According to Getty Images executive Craig Peters:
“The principle is to turn what’s infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that’s valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer” (2)
Some pay-for image sites, such as Shutterstock, require a subscription to get the best deal or have time limits applied to the images, such as with Cartoon Stock. Another site, an image marketplace called Picfair, charges variable amounts for each photo depending on whatever their contributors has asked for, with a small commission (20%) each time. Sites like Picfair have lovely, straightforward licensing agreements, with clear instructions on what you can and can’t do with the images. They are reasonable and ‘fair’ to both parties. But they are not free and are often for single use only.
Benji Lanyado, Picfair’s founder, says Getty’s motivation is clear:
“People who were previously not paying for Getty images, and were never going to… now do not need to pay for Getty images. Instead of chasing infringers, Getty is offering them a deal.” (3)
All images are effectively owned by someone. At some point they have all been created. Nearly all creative works are copyrighted. Many photographers deliberately take pictures for sale, in the same way that an artist paints pictures in order to make a living. So how do you respect a photographer’s work?
In theory you have to ask the owner, or producer of the original image, and would need to ask for permission to use it. But this is often not feasible or practical. Quite often, we do not need to know who produced the original image and there appears to be no copyright warning attached to it. We might think it is ‘fair game’ to use an unattributed image. ‘Fair game’ has no legal weight behind it, however, and this differs from ‘fair use’, which does cover a limited set of legitimate uses. ‘Fair Use’ covers the use of images where there is a necessity to be able to use an image to complement or illustrate something such as, for example, a critique or review. Wikipedia operates under a fair use policy for its reproduction of otherwise copyrighted images, often low resolution ones. Correct interpretation of ‘fair use’ would state that permission does not have to be sought for reproduction of small sections or for limited distribution.
There are a number of misconceptions or myths about both copyright and fair use, which have already been thoroughly analysed and debunked in this post by Sue Lyon-Jones of The EdTech Hub. Take this myth, for example about educational purposes and ‘fair use’:
Another common mistaken belief is that if the user is not making any money out of using the image then it is OK to do whatever they want with it. That does not, in theory at least, prevent a potential claim for copyright. Organisations have been sued where images have been re-used without permission.
Another common mistaken practice is to use the image and simply to credit the source. Quite often this source is neither the original source nor the owner or copyright holder. Just doing a Google Image search for an ‘open door’ will bring up a lot of lovely images which have been ‘borrowed’, for use on numerous blogs, seemingly without permission.
So what if you want a free, non-copyrighted image, as most individuals do, for a blog, which you can re-use how you want to, without any worry about restrictions and without the hassle of taking the photo yourself? You need to use images which are already copyright free or where permission to re-use has already been granted, which will normally cover use for non-commercial purposes.
There are a number of sites available and a selection are mentioned below. Each have their own particular licencing terms. If the photos have a Creative Commons license, the original creator specifically designates what they want to be done with their original work, and they’ll choose the right license to let you know what you can do with it. Most of these sites have a download option, although a simple right-click on any image and ‘save image as’ will usually be sufficient:
- As I stated in my previous post, the Flickr-based #ELTpics is a great resource for original photographs, with over 17,000 uploaded. It is mostly used by language teachers to offer free-to-use photos to other language teachers around the world. All the photos have an attribution non-commercial licence. You can use the photos provided you acknowledge or attribute the source. I have just recorded some screencasts for Teacher Training Videos and here is the link.
- Compfight is a Flickr search tool but is not affiliated with the Yahoo-owned site. It has access to millions of images from Flickr, although many are restricted. You can search by all types of licence, by creative commons or by commercial licence. Central to the Compfight experience is the number of filters and options available to search with. You can search by ‘tag’, ‘all text’, ‘licence’, ‘creative commons’, ‘commercial’, ‘safe search’ and ‘show/hide originals’. Clicking on an image shows the specific CC licence. You can copy and paste an embed code which will show the correct attribution. It contains a sponsored link to Shutterstock.
- FreeFoto.com is made up of 132549 images with 183 sections organized into 3640 categories. Non-commercial users may download their web size images to used off-line. Basically if your off-line use is not commercial you can download their web size images for free. Each photo comes with an option to either download, licence (unrestricted paid-for) or share (embed). Each image is catergorised – for example, strawberries (see below) comes under ‘fruit 1’ and shown alongside similar categories, for example, other types of food. It also contains sponsored links to Shutterstock and many of the better, more professional photos come from there. Anyone, by which they mean commercial and non-commercial alike, can use the images in an online setting, providing they provide attribution to the image and a link back to FreeFoto.com. Online use is covered by the Creative Commons license for non-commercial, no derivatives, attribution license.
- Morgue File – Images are not only free in this excellent resource but often do not require full attribution. You can do a quick search with this resource and bring up information about each photo quickly. The images are provided with free usage rights. A search for ‘piano’ (see below) is typical of what is available. The image can be copied, distributed, and adapted. You are prohibited using the images in a stand alone manner, for example, exhibiting the image as if it is your own. The photographer is credited along with the date when the image was uploaded. You can easily search for other images by that photographer or by keyword. The image URL is also clearly shown and there are links to posting directly onto social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest). There are links to i Stock / Getty Images, which may have been very recently added. Either way, these images work the same as the Getty Images above. There are also links to paid-for stock image services, Dreamstime and Fotolia. It also has a section called ‘ops’ which, similar to #ELTpics, are uploads using a particular hashtagged theme, plus there is a community and instructional lessons on taking good photos.
- Open Photo has a clear display with ‘photo of the day’ and some featured pictures. Items can be searched for by subject or by keyword. Opening up a set will also display other keyword search options. Each photo has the uploader’s name clearly shown below, as well as very clear information on what creative commons rights have been granted and what you are allowed to do. You need to right-click and save image as to get a copy. For the image below, which is a typical example, an attribution non-commercial NoDerivs 3.0 Unported licence applies, which means you must attribute the source, it must be non-commercial purposes, but it cannot be used if it is remixed or transformed. The licence code usually needs to be copied as well as proper attribution shown.
There are already some screencasts by Russell Stannard on Teacher Training Videos, about the last three, along with his own discussion about copyright and creative commons, as well as two further sources, Public Domain Pictures and Wikimedia Commons.
Of course, if you are ever in doubt and want to really illustrate your blog with an original photo then you could always use one which have gone and taken yourself.
*as of 10 March 2014.
(1) BBC News, 2014. Getty makes 35m photos free to use. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-26463886. Accessed 8 March 2014.
(2) Brandom, Russell, 2014. The world’s largest photo service just made its pictures free to use. The Verge. Available at: http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/5/5475202/getty-images-made-its-pictures-free-to-use. Accessed 8 March 2014.
(3) Hern, A. 2014. Photographers warn of ‘cynical’ move by Getty to provide free pictures. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/mar/07/photographers-getty-images. Accessed 8 March 2014.
(4) Lyon-Jones, S. 2012. Copyrights or Copy Wrongs? Available at: http://www.edtech-hub.com/index.php/copyrights-or-copy-wrongs/. Accessed 8 March 2014.