Where can I get pictures that are not copyrighted?

I will tell you where you can get pictures that are not copyrighted. There are only so many options. The bottom line is there are three basic types of picture when it comes to copyright:
  1. Pictures protected by copyright;
  2. Pictures that are copyright protected but which you can use under license (permission) from the creator of the picture;
  3. Pictures that were copyright protected but are no longer because the protection has expired under copyright law. The picture is in the "public domain".

Note: Copyright law is complicated. It varies across the world. Therefore assume all pictures are protected by copyright unless there is some obvious reason why it is not. For example, next to the picture the creator says you can use it.

Note 2: Obtaining permission to use a picture does not mean the picture is not copyrighted. It just means that for you it can be used.

Here is how you get pictures that are not copyrighted:

1. License to use. Assume the picture is copyright protected. Find out who took the picture. This is often not too hard to do. Find out their contact details (email usually) and ask the person whether you can use the picture on your website. Example email asking for permission:

"Hi, I love your picture of the xxxx. I have a website about xxxx. The URL is xxx. I wonder if you would be kind enough to let me use your picture on my site. I would be pleased to provide a link to a website of your choice and promote your work. I look forward to hearing from you. Best Regards John Doe"

You will be surprised how many say, yes. This is because the market place for photography is very competitive and photographers or artists are pleased to get a bit of publicity.

However, you must always do as they ask and do it well. Never scam someone who has been nice to you. Be generous to them and you will get your reward.

Technically the photographer will grant you a license to use the picture under certain conditions. He or she can withdraw the license if the conditions say he can, but he rarely if ever will. The terms of the license are negotiable but they will be very simple and uncomplicated and normally unspecified other than a link.

Note: this can be a slow process and you might not get an answer. It can be frustrating but you'll get some successes and it is worth doing.

2. Creative Commons. You have probably heard about this or seen it. You might be unsure what it means. Forget the name 'creative commons'. It is confusing. Creative commons means that the creator of the picture has given permission up front, in advance, for people to use his or her work under certain conditions. This is very efficient as it avoids the need to ask, which takes time. There are various types of creative commons. It depends on what type of permission the creator, usually a photographer, grants. At on end of the spectrum is permission to use in any way you like with one condition: that you credit the photographer. At the other end of the spectrum permission is granted provided you use the photograph "as is" and provide a credit and not use the picture commercially. Flickr has the full spread of creative commons licenses on this page. They also provide a nice explanation of use. All the big photo repositories will allow use under creative commons.

On catch under this method is that on Flickr a person can protect their work under copyright but Flickr allows you to embed the photo on your website using code provided by Flickr. That is incorrect but it is up to the photographer to organise their settings properly.

3. Wikimedia Commons. this is like creative commons. Go to this page to see lots of freely available pictures but comply with the conditions. This is usually means crediting the author of the work. I would also quote at the base of your page the authority under which you can publish the picture on your web page. This is the page.

4. Public Domain. The time is takes for copyright to expire various in different countries or regions. Basically is is 50 years plus the lifetime of the author of the work - a long time. You can see pictures that are in the public domain in old books because the books are in the public domain. You can see old books and the contents on Google Books.

5. Purchase. Of course you can purchase the use of a picture. This does not mean the picture is not copyrighted. It just means that you have a license to use it which is the same as a creative commons license really except you are paying.  iStockphoto is the biggest.

Note: I have not discussed 'fair use' here because it is not part of the subject matter of this page.

Associated: Internet Copyright Issues.

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