Sure, you can go to Google Images, search for keywords, download, and then use the images you find. However, while possibly tempting, most bloggers realize there are legal issues with doing this. Furthermore, we don’t want people copying and pasting our words on their websites without our permission; therefore we should show the same respect to photographers and artists.
However, there is a lot available that is free (or almost free) of copyright restrictions.
A. The Commons
Flickr, the photo-sharing website, has a section they call The Commons. The Commons began in January of 2008 when The Library of Congress released about 1500 photographs from their collection to display on Flickr. Since then, The Library of Congress Flickr collection has grown to over 5000 photographs. Several other libraries and museums have added photographs from their collections. If you search The Commons any photographs you find will be completely free of copyright restrictions. If you follow a link to the museum’s full collection on Flickr, leaving The Commons, some of those photographs may have copyright restrictions. The description of the photograph should indicate whether or not there are any restrictions.
[Note: The 1860s image on the left of the Jefferson Barracks military post just South of St. Louis, Missouri came from the New York Public Library collection at The Commons.]
B. Creative Commons
Flickr also has a section entitled Creative Commons
Anyone is able to contribute photographs to this section. These photographs aren’t completely free of copyright restrictions, but they fall into the “almost free” category. There are six groups, each with a different combination of four requirements
Attribution: The simplest, this means to use the photograph or artwork you must provide credit. An easy way to do this is to provide a link to the individual Flickr account from which the work came.
No Derivatives: You can display the artwork or photography exactly as it appears; you can’t make any changes. (Changing the size of the photograph, as well as trimming a ‘detail’ are both derivative works. Even copying the image in photo-editing software, pasting it into a new file, and adding a caption in whitespace underneath, is still a derivative work. The image you download from Flickr must be the exact same file you upload to your website.)
Non Commercial: – You can’t use the work for commercial purposes. (While many people will think ‘commercial’ means putting the photo on the cover of your CD, or on a tshirt you sell on CafePress – if your blog has advertisements from which you make money, a court could decide your blog is commercial. Since you probably don't wish to upset the artist, I would recommend asking permission from the owner – as they should be easily contactable from their Flickr accounts.)
ShareAlike: ShareAlike means if you make a derivative work, you must distribute it under a similar Creative Commons license
With those four definitions in mind, here are the six Creative Commons categories at Flickr, each of which can be searched individually:
1) Attribution License: Only attribution is required. You can make derivatives, use it for commercial purposes, etc. Once you make changes to the work, you can redistribute your derived work under a different set of requirements.
2) Attribution No Derivs License: You must give credit, and you aren’t allowed to make any derivatives. But as long as you don't make any changes to the work, you can still use it for commercial purposes.
3) Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivs License: The most restrictive of the categories, the photographs are still free to use on a personal, non-commercial site.
4) Attribution – Non Commercial: Derivatives are allowed.
5) Attribution – NonCommercial – ShareAlike: If you make a derivative work, you must distribute it under a similar Creative Commons license
6) Attribution – ShareAlike: Same as #5, but you may use for commercial purposes.
II. LIFE Magazine
LIFE Magazine is sharing a large portion of their historical photo collection on Google Images .
They have the images organized by decade, and images from the 1880s through the 1910s are free of copyright restrictions. Those in the 1920 category and later are restricted to “Personal – non-commercial usage.”
III. The US Government
The US Government has an index of the images available on all their websites:
Most of these images and graphics are available for use in the public domain, and they may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However, some images may be protected by license. We strongly recommend you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use. For information about obtaining seals of Federal Agencies and the United States, please see the Government Printing Office website.
Images range from insects on the US Department of Agriculture website, photographs of the Grand Canyon on the National Park Service website, to images of the lunar surface on the NASA website.
IV. Classic works of art are a great way to illustrate your entries.
Art History Resources on the Web is a handy index to websites where you can find classic works of art that are free of copyright restriction.
Note: While artwork might be in the ‘public domain’ the photographs of the artwork might not be. If the image is the painting only, and you don’t see the frame, or the museum wall behind it, one photograph is going to be nearly identical to any other photograph, so it can be safely assumed to be in the public domain. However, once the creativity of the photographer enters into the photograph, you are on rockier grounds. And if the work of art is a sculpture, the photographer will often matter.
There are websites that will sell you the rights to photography, such as iStockPhoto or Getty Images . However, since there are several places to find free images, unless there is a particular image at one of these sites that really strike your fancy, there is no need to use them.
With all these sources for free photography and artwork, when you don't have a photograph from your family collection for a blog entry, your entry doesn't need to be image-free.
This article is revised somewhat from an article written for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild