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Sites to Download Free Pictures

Getty Images has earned a reputation as a copyright troll for demanding hundreds to thousands of dollars in licensing fees and penalties from bloggers and other web sites that use a Getty photo without a license. Getty uses a search engine that scours all of the pictures on the internet looking for copyright infringers, then sends off demand letters to anyone flagged in its system.

At least one law firm has fought back, suing Getty to get a court declaration that Getty’s tactics should not apply to thumbnail images.  The article contains a copy of the lawsuit if you happen to get a letter from Getty and want to sue them. Most people won’t have the desire to fight one of the demand letters and will instead just pay Getty Images what one person labeled as an “extortion fee” to settle the case.

I completely acknowledge and agree that photographers deserve to be compensated for their work. But copyright laws make exceptions for use of copyrighted materials (including pictures). Getty Images We Suck
For example, if I created the changes at the right to parody of Getty’s iStock licensing model where it costs $45 (three “credits” costing $15 each) to download one picture, the transformative changes I made to Getty’s logo would fall under the “parody” exception of copyright law. In addition, under US Copyright law, words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans and typeface are not subject to copyright.

Even if you choose to pay Getty’s outrageous licensing fees, you’ll need an attorney to decipher Getty’s license.

For example, as some of the 16 restrictions on use of its images, Getty states that licensees may not …

5. incorporate the Content in any product that results in a re-distribution or re-use of the Content (such as electronic greeting card web sites, web templates and the like) or is otherwise made available in a manner such that a person can extract or access or reproduce the Content as an electronic file.
12. use or display the Content in an electronic format that enables it to be downloaded or shared in any peer-to-peer or similar file sharing arrangement;

Since anyone can right-click and download an image from a blog post, by including a Getty image in your blog, you are violating Getty’s terms of service.

As part of the license, Getty demands that …

You agree to indemnify, defend and hold iStock, its affiliates, its Content providers and their respective directors, officers, employees, shareholders, partners and agents (collectively, the “iStock Parties”) harmless from and against any and all claims, liability, losses, damages, costs and expenses (including reasonable legal fees on a solicitor and client basis) incurred by any iStock Party as a result of or in connection with any breach or alleged breach by you or anyone acting on your behalf of any of the terms of this Agreement.

In other words, if Getty alleges that you have breached any of the terms of its license agreement, you give Getty permission to sue you for damages and you agree to pay all of the damages plus pay for all of Getty’s attorneys’ fees.

Finally, Getty requires you to acknowledge that


That’s an awful lot of risk and expense to go through just to put a picture on a blog, isn’t it? Violate their restrictive and confusing licensing agreement and Getty can sue you and make you pay the fees of the lawyers that are suing you. Since Getty has already demonstrated its penchant for filing lawsuits against purported copyright infringers, you take a huge risk using Getty’s services.

So rather than hiring a law firm to explain the legal repercussions of posting a licensed picture on your site that might be “made available in a manner such that a person can extract or access or reproduce the Content as an electronic file” and possibly being subject to lawsuits for using such images, I thought it may be a good idea to post a few sites that you can go to get pictures for free, with no licensing fees, and with no restrictions on their use.

The best way to counter companies with policies like Getty Images is to stop using their products. Use pictures from and contribute pictures to free online sites.

Keep in mind that even though images on the sites below may be free to use, the images are usually submitted by third parties.
Those third parties may or may not have model releases.
Those third parties may also have uploaded copyrighted material that they have not received permission to use. One who uploads someone else’s copyrighted image cannot provide permission to use that image. For example, think about someone who uploads a new movie release to YouTube. The company who produced the movie owns the copyright, not the uploader.
If you decide to use a picture, it might be a good idea to download a copy of the licensing terms for the site/picture somewhere to your computer just in case the site goes offline or in case you are questioned about the copyright of a specific image.

Keeping those things in mind, here are some good sites to get material.

Creative Commons license sites

https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons – there are many different types of Creative Commons licenses for the hundreds of millions of photos on the Flickr site. You can narrow your search to the license type which includes an “attribution” license, a “no-derivative works” license, a noncommercial license and a “share alike” license, along with combinations of the above.

http://search.creativecommons.org – provides search results from multiple sites that distribute content under a Creative Commons license and allows you to narrow results to pictures that can be modified and/or used for commercial purposes

http://albumarium.com – operates on a Creative Commons 2.0 license. Simple terms of use.

Royalty free image sites

http://freerangestock.com – allows commercial and noncommercial use of images, but has a licensing agreement with lots of legalese.

http://morguefile.com – great site with simple licensing agreement. I get a lot of the pictures for this site from MorgueFile – and the name isn’t what you think. It’s not a bunch of pictures of dead people. As the site notes, “the term “morgueFile” is popular in the newspaper business to describe the file that holds past issues flats. A morgueFile is a place to keep post production materials for use of reference … an inactive job file.”

http://www.freeimages.com (formerly stock.xchng) – moderately complex licensing agreement, but understandable

https://unsplash.com – not a lot of pictures and there’s no search function on the site, but the pictures are all high-resolution and the license to use them is simple to understand.

http://commons.wikimedia.org – 23 million freely usable media files – including sound and video. Licensing requires that all uploaded files must be free of copyright restrictions.

http://www.wikipedia.org – images used on Wikipedia are often in the public domain. However, you should check the specific licensing restrictions on each image before using it.

http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Graphics.shtml – Check the links on the site to see any restrictions on use. In general, US government works are in the public domain and may be used for most purposes without fee. There are some restrictions, though. For example, you can’t use a logo from a government agency to make it appear that you represent the agency or employed by the agency. For more information about copyright and US Government works, see this link.


Did this post help you out? If so, let me know in the comments section.
If you use pictures on these sites for your blog, pay it forward. Upload some pictures to these sites for others to use. You’d be surprised how often I wish I had pictures of common objects or animals to help illustrate my posts.
Finally, if you’re feeling really generous and need to purchase something from Amazon, you can help out this blog by clicking through to Amazon using this link before you do your shopping. Thanks!


  1. Thank you! My students will be grateful for this list as well.

  2. Some of the Getty’s historical photos and films are wonderful. However, anything that is more modern is certainly reproduceable with a little effort. Want a picture of a camera, take one with your cell phone. Want a picture of kids playing, take your kids to the park and take the picture. Want a picture of a specific building, call a friend in the area and ask him to take it for you.

    There are way around all these restrictions. It just take a bit of effort.

  3. Being that I am working on something that can unintentionally result in copyright infringing, this is a good article! I can avoid royalty fees in some cases and others not. If my endeavor takes off, there will be one particular marching band that has the best S&*@ evah!! :)

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