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How to Legally Use Images Online

By November 17, 2019No Comments

Whether you’re a small business owner or a large corporation, taking the time to make sure that you’re legally using images online can go a long way toward keeping your reputation and finances in check. Violating copyright laws is such a costly risk — one you could potentially lose your business over. We’ll make the process simple and easy to understand so you don’t unknowingly violate any copyright laws.

Stock Images

Stock images are images that you can buy for your own use. You have a lot of control over what you can do with these images, but there are still limits. Always be sure to read over the terms and conditions before posting images online, even if they are stock. For example, some stock images cannot be used to create commercial ads, but can be used on your blog for editorial purposes

Public Domain

Public domain images don’t have a copyright, so they can be used freely. Some never had a copyright, it expired, or the original creator released it. Most sites offering public domain images will note it on the site. If they don’t, protect yourself by not making assumptions. Either go to a site that does indicate the images are public domain or don’t use them at all.

Creative Commons

Images that are designated as Creative Commons are very similar to public domain images, but the original creator still gets to say how they are used… and violating their conditions can land you in a world of hurt. The two different types of Creative Commons images are either legal to use commercially or not legal to use commercially, usually indicated on the same page as the image you’re considering using. Beyond that, they also fall into several sub-categories.

Attribution: No matter what other category they fall into, anything that says “attribution” means you have to give credit to the original creator of the image. This type of license means you have to give credit to the creator, but can modify the image as your needs demand.

Attribution ShareAlike: As you might have guessed, “Attribution ShareAlike” license require you to give credit to the original creator, but you also have to license your new creation under the same terms. So, if you take an image and add effects to it, then publish it on your site, you have to give credit to the creator of the image you modified, but also license the new image as Attribution ShareALike. You don’t get to claim it as yours and deny others the right to use it.

Attribution ShareAlike No Derivatives: With an Attribution ShareAlike No Derivatives license, you can use the image as long as you give credit to the creator of it and make no modifications to it.


Now, let’s assume you found an image online, maybe on a social network. It would be perfect for your new blog post, but you have no idea what sort of licensing it falls under. There’s a good chance the original creator doesn’t even know what license it falls under. In such cases, it’s up to you to contact the creator and ask for permission to use the image, and under what conditions.

Let’s be clear here… there is no other option. 

If you use a published image without permission from the owner, the next piece of mail you open could be from their lawyer, and they would win that lawsuit. Though people often share things on social media without asking permission, social media is a publishing platform and all images hosted there are considered to be published.

Don’t know how an image is licensed? The only surefire way to protect yourself is to simply not use them. Head to a reputable image hosting site and rely on their expertise and professional practices. This has become such an expensive and enormous issue that any site hosting images for use will either make the licensing obvious or they aren’t a reputable site and you don’t want to deal with them.

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