Before getting images off of the internet, you have to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need to give attribution?
- Do I need to get permission to use it? Where and how do I get permission?
- Can I use the image on my book, illustration, app, or website?
- Can I redistribute or sell the image?
- Can I change, modify, or edit the image?
- Can I use it commercially, or is it only for personal use?
In each case, we have to worry about these things when we want to use images not created or owned.
Well, except that the pictures are in the public domain.
What is a public domain image?
Images in the public domain are images without copyright protection.
Images exist in the public domain for two reasons:
- The author waives his/her copyright: In this case, the creator of the work intentionally and explicitly puts the image in the public domain by waiving any copyright. Usually, these images will have a license such as CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication or WTF Public License.
- Copyright protection is expired: In most governments, copyright protection expires after a certain period of time. For example, for works published in the United States/protected in the United States, copyright protection usually expires 70 years after the author’s death (note that these terms do change with the work’s publication date).
Main features of public domain images
No need to indicate the source: some free images found on the web will ask you to link back to their source website. Appropriate public domain images do not ask you to provide attribution to the source or creator.
Completely free: Websites that are mentioned here, you may download public domain images for free. Please be aware that some websites could sell you public domain images for either a certain amount per download or a monthly subscription fee.
Ability to use images in (almost) any way: there are no restrictions on the use of public domain images. You can sell them, edit them, redistribute them, use them in your web apps, etc. The only restriction you will be subject to is the laws and regulations owned by the government. For example, suppose that for some strange reason, your country/region does not allow you to use photos of cats and grass; you will bear the consequences of the violation.
Sites to Find Public Domain Images
Good Free Photos
This site is run by someone who calls themselves Ninja. They have a public domain dedicated to images that mainly travel photos.
The Public Domain
This website is blog styled and has plenty of public domain images. It has been around since 2005, so there is plenty of content on it.
My Public Domain Pictures
This styled blog site is a community drive and has public domain photos uploaded by the users.
This site is a media file repository, so there is an extensive public domain index. It is a project done by the same non-profit organization that runs Wikipedia named Wikimedia Foundation. They have a vast collection, and it is updated regularly because of the open platform it uses. However, it has so many images it can be hard to browse the images compared to other image sites.
This site is a great place to get professional public domain images. Every week new images are added, which keeps the content on the site fresh. The site is run by Matt Hobbs, a professional photographer and web designer.
Public Domain Photos
This is a privately owned website and has over 25,000 public domain images. The images are sorted into 51 different categories, and each image has a keyword tag so that you can find images easier through the archives page.
New Old Stock
This site indexes vintage stock photos that do not have copyright restrictions.
This website is full of vintage images with a public domain license that is found in the free section. However, not all images found on this site will be free.
Every ten days, ten new images are released under the CC0 1.0 public domain license. This site is a project by Crew, which is an online marketplace for creative talents.
This site has a collection of public domain images. The images are licensed under CC0 1.0 and are arranged based on categories.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use site with a search feature and plenty of options to explore the images, Pixabay is the right choice. Pixabay only uses public domain images with the CC0 1.0 license.
Flickr: The Commons
The Commons project was created by a partnership with the U.S. Library of Congress, National Library of Australia, and Flickr. The goal was to catalog all of the public domain images and share great images from various public photography archives.
If you are looking for a great collection of public domain images, check out PDPics. They have 18 organized categories that range from architecture, technology, food, animals, and so much more.
Public Domain Review
Public Domain Review is an online publication dedicated to public domain topics. They have more than one hundred public domain image collections, each of which has many images and contains a description of the subject of the work.
Each week, Little Visuals will release seven new public domain images.
This site has plenty of wallpaper photos. However, all the images here are public domain. Yet there is a note by the website owner that a person in the photo may not use it because the photographer may not have obtained a release from those photographed.
Ryan McGuire, a designer, created this project. Gratisography. High-res photos are often released under the CC0 license for the public domain.
Tips for Public Domain Image Usage
Think about providing attribution even if you are not required to. Public domain images do not require you to provide attribution, but the creators and owners work hard to provide these resources. They will appreciate a backlink to their website to acknowledge their work.
Be careful about using images with people. Whenever a photo has someone who can be identified, they may have the right to privacy provided by their country of origin. It is your responsibility to make sure that your public domain images are being used in ethical and lawful ways.