Millions of Fantastic Free Images Added to the Internet

Creative Commons Image by Jonas Tana.

Creative Commons Image by Jonas Tana.

Adding an appropriate, quality image to your blog post can make the world of difference.

But where do you source them? You can’t just help yourself to what you fancy; it belongs to someone – or at least it might. When someone creates an image it is by default copyrighted to them. It is there’s and unless they allow it, no one else can use it. If therefore, you find yourself in need of free images to use alongside your crafted words then this post is for you.

A while ago I put together a list of resources where you can find free images and I had it in mind to tidy up my list and publish it. I hate those “Ten best places to get free images” type posts though, so thought I’d wait until there was an excuse to write about it properly.

Well, today I read about the recent addition of millions of copyright-free images to the internet and the guy who made it happen is Kalev Leetaru. Good on you sir. If he can do that then the least I can do is put my list up on here.

One of my favourite websites is, the free access on-line library also called the internet archive. I first became aware of this some years ago when I became interested in genealogy – a lot of very important records, including parish records and older deeds are freely available on there and it is well worth a look if you are interested in family history, rather than stumping up for a membership to somewhere like Ancestry or FindMyPast. There is also a wealth of free music there and even better – BOOKS!
Lots and lots of digitized books, which you can read on-line, print off, or even download to your Kindle.

William Tyndale, who died to give the Bible in English to the common man

William Tyndale, who died to give the Bible in English to the common man

Most of the books on come from libraries from all over the world which have been scanned and read by specialist software, which used optical character recognition to identify printed text and turn it into digital text which can then be adapted into a variety of formats. When it identified an image it ignored it. What Mr Leetaru has done is adapted the software to specifically find those images in the archives database and scan each one as a jpeg. The result is several million new images available to everybody. Works of art (some of which are the only surviving record as the original has been lost), illustration, sketches of this and that, coats of arms, photographs, even library stamps and scans of the book bindings themselves, are available.

Answers on a postcard to...

Answers on a postcard to…

These images become part of the Commons database on Flickr which includes images from additional free sources.

In addition, many photographers upload their pics to Flickr and make them available under the creative commons licence, meaning they can be used without charge so long as the author/creator of the image is attributed. What you can do with each image varies and you’ll need to check in each case.
You can search these via the creative commons area of Flickr.
As well as your search terms, scroll down the page and click the “Only search within Creative Commons-licenced content” and optionally any of the other Creative Commons search options and then hit “search”. When you find an image you want to use, click on it and check what it says below the image about usage.

There will be a “Some rights reserved” along with some icons, and the link can be clicked opening a new window making it clear what you can and cannot do with the image in question. Sometimes you can adapt the image in any way you want and sometimes that right is not given, and sometimes the rights do not extend to commercial use. In either case, they – the author/creator – retain the copyright of the image (they are just letting you use it for free).

When you use an image you need to provide an attribution statement on your post and ideally a link back to their page. See the caption below the image I’ve used above? That tells people who the image rights belong to and if you click on the image it will take you to the owner Flickr profile.

Another large source for creative commons images is Wikimedia Commons: A very good source for images and they make clear where permissions are required on their images. Simply search for the image you wish to use and scroll down, it will outline the image copyright status; you can also click the’use on the web’ link and copy and paste any required citation from here.

It’s also worth checking out Wikipedia’s image resources list.

A few more sources worth checking out

Microsoft Office: All free, photos and good clip art. Most of the clipart is in their own wmf format, which needs converting (it appears weird in most pc viewers):
– open with Office Picture Manager if you have any version of Office installed, File>Export>options inc png formats
– or convert on-line with zamzar.

Pixabay: the vast majority of images are free. Great selection of photographs and Clipart and Vector. Selecting an image will inform you in there is a charge. No requirement to quote source upon reproduction and images may be re-used for any purpose i.e. even commercial.

Clker: uploaded clip art vouched as public by those that upload.

Getty Museum Art Images: this site contains 4600 high-resolution images of artwork, and they can all be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes so long as they’re properly attributed to the museum. When downloading an image, the site also asks for you to share why you’re using it — information the museum wants to see the many reasons that people have for downloading its content.

Free Digital all you need do – where required – is credit the author and site.

Medical journals/papers are another great source of good quality images, especially when an article is about a medical topic. Most journals have a policy already, so check their website. Some have a blanket policy where images can be used unchanged, and without specific formal request, so long as they are correctly attributed to the journal/authors in the way they specify. Other journals have an email address where you can contact them to ask specifically for permissions to use images from one of their papers. Journals get asked this often, so you’ll likely get a reply. Make sure you point out that it is for use by a non-profit charity if you are one.

If you cannot find an image suitable on the aforementioned sites it may be worth doing a google search specifying only images with no copyright on them.

Google’s advanced image search allows you to specify usage rights to find free to use content. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page and under the ‘usage rights’ tab select ‘free to use or share, even commercially’ But beware that sometimes Google screws up and the images aren’t really free to use, so check each source carefully to make sure you really can use them.

Fair Usage

Here is an example of an image used by wikipedia that is under copyright along with their statement for why it is fair usage:
Oetzi the Iceman
Do be aware, however, that the application of this rule is a matter of opinion and someone with a commercial stake in an image may try to stop you using it, even if you claim fair usage rights. You’ll have to make your own judgement what to use, as well as what to do if the owner asks you to stop.

In the spirit of free usage, if anyone wants to use the image I created for my ghost writer article, go ahead, I grant a Creative Commons licence on it. Just remember to attribute it to me when you do.

Know any more good sources? Tell us about them in the comments section!

EDIT: 04.09.2014, Yale University have a cool, interactive, searchable archive of 170,000 free photographs from the Depression era. Worth checking out.


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