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Where to Get Free Images (Without Stealing)

from the book | page 154

If you know anything about me, then you know the importance I put on content marketing.

I believe it is the lifeblood of an effective online marketing campaign.

I can cite study after study that provide the undeniable benefits of blogging, such as:

  • B2C companies that blog get 88% more leads per month than those that don’t.
  • Leads generated from organic search have a 14.6% close rate, vs. PPC leads at 1.7%
  • Blogs with relevant images receive 94% more views than text only posts

And so on. As you can see from the third statistic, images play an important role in getting your content read. I strongly urge you to use images in your articles.

However, don’t think you can just do a Google image search, grab a pretty pic and post it on your site. That could land you in court if the photographer or graphic designer that created the image finds you.

Think it can’t happen to you? Don’t be so sure. 

In fact, it’s as easy as dragging-and-dropping an image into Google image search to find other sites that are using the same image.

And if you get caught it’s not fun. I know four people that have had to deal with the headaches of take-down notices and copyright infringement penalties.

But don’t fret! There are plenty of places to find images that you ARE ALLOWED TO USE. As long as you stick to sites like these, you’ll be just fine.

You could almost just stop right here at number one. As it says on the home page, it’s “The internet’s source of freely usable images. Powered by creators everywhere.”

According to their license page: “All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.“

The catch: None.

Stunning photography by Ryan McGuire offered completely free. He doesn’t even require attribution, although he does mention that credit is “always appreciated.” His images tend to be surreal and whimsical, which is rare to find in free images.

All images are super big, 240dpi, and he posts new images every week.

The catch: None.

Flickr (pronounced “flicker”) is an image hosting and video hosting website owned by Yahoo. It’s a great way to store your images on the cloud.

However, many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license. If you go to the Creative Commons section of the site, you can browse or search through content under each type of license available.

The catch: There’re a lot of junk images to wade through. (Although there are certainly some gems, too.)

Free for both unlimited commercial and private use, these stock photos and backgrounds have no attribution requirements or royalty fees. Images have no restrictions.

The catch: This site is ad heavy. And there is no search function; you have to browse through the categories. Beware of clicking the “search” boxes, they are actually ads made to look like a search function.

You read that right. The king of images copyright lawsuits now offers over 50 million images for free. But before you get all warm and tingly, there are some restrictions: apparently these images are still not approved for commercial use. Although there’s some debate over what Getty Images considers an actionable commercial use violation.

The (other) catch: You can’t download the images and upload them to your site. The only authorized use is to use an embed code on your site (much like embedding a YouTube video). Which means a) they get the SEO link juice and b) if they take it down, you end up with a broken image on your website.

Touting over 400,000 images in their database, this is one of the larger free image sites available. As with most of these sites, you need to watch where you click. Paid ads made to look like the search results can quickly land you on another domain. Still, the search function makes it relatively easy to find what you’re looking for.

The catch: Image restrictions vary by image. You’ll need to review the “availability” box below the image to see what restrictions apply to the one you’ve selected.

This is Searchable database of public domain images. Most images are CC0, which means you can copy, modify and distribute the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

The catch: None that I’ve found.


Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list. I’m sure there are other sites that offer free images. So, if you have any sites you like to use, please share them in the comments below.

And please remember: I’m not dishing out legal advice here. If you’ve ever met me you know, I’m the farthest thing from a lawyer.

If you want more information about image copyright rules you can check out this post or consult an attorney.

Remember, images are a critical component to your content strategy, and as long as you do it right you will reap the rewards long after the original article has sunk deep into your archives.

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