The Basics of Image Copyright

So you’ve found the perfect image for your post. Are you legally allowed to use it?

We know, thinking about legal stuff isn’t fun. But it’s definitely not fun to get sued for copyright infringement. So let’s take some time to talk about image copyrights, how they work, and how you can find good images for your posts without breaking any laws.

Image of a retro-style camera sitting on a wooden table with a pair of glasses beside it

(Disclaimer: We are not lawyers and this post isn’t legal advice. It doesn’t cover all the intricacies of copyright law, but is a basic overview of how it works for images on the internet.)


The technical term for copyright is “intellectual property law.” Copyright provides the creator of something artistic (such as a piece of writing or art, a photograph, a performance, or even an architectural work) the exclusive right to use, reproduce, create derivatives of, publish, and sell their work. They are also able to give this right to others.

Unlike a trademark or a patent, a copyright isn’t something you have to file with the government (although you can if you want extra legal protection). You automatically own the copyright to anything artistic you create.

Copyright and the Internet

The point of copyright is to prevent one person from taking the work of another and profiting from it without the creator’s permission or giving something back to the creator in exchange. This is pretty hard to enforce on the internet. Google Image Search will give you any image on the internet, regardless of its copyright restrictions, and it’s easy to save an image to your device and upload it to your post. And most creators on the internet are small and don’t have the resources to sue you for copyright infringement.

That doesn’t mean you should risk it, though. Just because it doesn’t happen often doesn’t mean you’re completely safe from being sued. And even if you don’t get sued, a lot of artists and photographers on the internet have pretty big audiences, and they can cause major problems for your business if they tell their audience you stole their images. You don’t want your business to get a reputation for stealing other people’s work.

Creative Commons

There is good news – not all images on the internet are off-limits! Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides copyright licenses that let people share their work for free. There are different types of licenses that have different restrictions (some require you to credit the original artist, some are not allowed to be used for commercial purposes), but all images are free to use provided you follow the license restrictions.

Public Domain and CC0

Public domain images are images that are no longer covered by copyright (usually because the copyright has expired). Creative Commons also has a restriction-free license called CC0, where all works with a CC0 license are treated like they’re in the public domain. Public domain and CC0 images are free to use, modify, and use commercially without attribution.

Still need to find the perfect image? We’ve assembled a list of places to find free, CC0-licensed images.

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