Can I Use That Picture? 3 Rules to Ensure Your Blog Isn’t Breaking Copyright Rules

How to protect your blog from copyright issues

It’s among the first things you hear as a blogger: Use photos.

People are receptive to images. Pictures also help break up lengthy blocks of text.

But if you’re new to blogging and just jump over to Google images, you could quickly find yourself in hot water.

If you choose to go the free route (and who wouldn’t?!), it can be difficult to discern the photos free for use and the ones that require attribution.

So before you snag an image off the web, educate yourself.

(Note: We recently updated this post. Click here to view the new version.)

Rule #1:  You can’t use everything you find on the web. 

In simple terms, you are financially liable for using copyrighted items on your website.

It doesn’t matter if you provide attribution or link back to the source. Unless you’ve received express permission or have legitimately purchased usage rights, you can’t post copyrighted photos. Period.

Grabbing that perfect image for your next blog post may seem harmless, especially if you’ve seen it used all over the web, but it can hurt you in a big way.

Risking your business for a photo is silly. So, it’s best to get it right the first time. That leads us to …

Rule #2: Understand the basics of copyright law.

If you haven’t taken a class in communication law or copyright infringement, there are three main types of copyright categories you’ll come across. Luckily, most sites are clear about the rights for their photos.

Here’s a brief overview:

Public domain. A public domain image is an picture whose copyright either has expired or never existed in the first place. Therefore, these images are able to be used by pretty much anyone for personal or commercial reasons. The only real exception here is if the image is of an identifiable person, in which case you may need his or her permission before you post.

Royalty free. A royalty-free image means you can use some copyrighted picture or material, without needing to pay royalties, or some sort of fee each time. Typically when images are offered this way, it is through some sort of site that has already paid a fee, so you don’t have to pay it yourself (think a stock photo site).

Creative commons. This is a way for photographers to license their image and delineate how they will be used by the public. The most common CC licenses you’ll stumble across are a CC0 or a CC BY 2.0. If something is CC0, it means the owner has relinquished the rights to their work, while a CC BY 2.0 requires attribution. If an image is licensed under CC, make sure you’re extra diligent in determining when you need to attribute credit to the photographer. Learn more about the licenses here.

Rule #3: Know your options.

Because there are many.  With that in mind, here are some of my favorite sites when I’m looking for images that are up for grabs. Take a look, and let us know in the comments which ones are your go-to.

  1. Pixabay – Here, you’ll find all sorts of public domain pictures and photos, free to use for your purposes.
  2. Unsplash– All the pictures here are a CC0 license, meaning you can copy and use them for free.
  3. Refe – This is a database of royalty-free stock photos. Just click on the free photo tab, and you’re in business.
  4. My Stock Photos– This site gives you countless beautiful photographs that are all stock images, available for both your personal or commercial endeavors.
  5. New Old Stock – These are vintage pictures from public archives, free from known copyright restrictions.
  6. FoodiesFeed – Are you a food blogger? This will be your heaven! Find a whole archive of food images that you may use without attribution (but, you cannot resell.)
  7. Public Domain Archive – Just click on the tab for free stock photos or go through their beautiful weekly images.
  8. Life of Pix – Another stock photo site, where you can find free high-resolution photos without copyright restrictions.
  9. SplitShire – Looking for even more free, high quality stock photos? The creator of this site lets you download and use all of their personal shots for free. They also have a free video archive!
  10. Photogen – Even more free stock photos, for all of your commercial and personal needs.

*Bonus: One of my other favorite sites for images is Canva. Sign up for free, and quickly discover how to create your own designs, templates, and edit photos. It’s an easy way to craft personal social media graphics with images, filters, shapes and fonts already on the site. While the majority of it is free, a few layouts and images do have a small price ($1!) . I highly recommend it if you’re looking to start designing or editing images yourself.

The bottom line: Don’t get lazy. 

Using pictures and images can be a valuable tool while you’re writing.

Be sure to determine where the picture came from, what licensing it falls under, and whether you need to attribute credit to the artist who captured the beauty in the first place.

If you’re unsure, do some more digging or find an image that you know is up for grabs. 

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Julia Rabin is a former Cision Media Researcher. With a background in organizational communications, public speaking and international relations, she has a passion for social justice advocacy and loves keeping up to date with the latest global news. In her free time, you will find Julia traveling, playing with puppies, baking dairy free treats or reading.

46 thoughts on “Can I Use That Picture? 3 Rules to Ensure Your Blog Isn’t Breaking Copyright Rules

  1. I really enjoyed your reading about copyrights, and thought your blog was very thorough relating to the laws of copyright. I must say as a photographer, nobody wants to create great work only to have it stolen. It is a good feeling knowing that my photos are automatically copyrighted the second that I press the shutter button on my camera! This has been so for every photographer since the Bernie Convention in 1988. -(well, in the USA anyways). So If I were to ever see any of my work in a magazine article or newspaper with out my consent, I would have the right to sue for copyright infringement. I think many people think it is okay to go online and cut a picture from a website and paste it for use anywhere they like. What people need to realize is, is that “Copyright is justified as an intrinsic right of the author, a necessary recognition of the authors identity or personhood… the general rationale for copyright in this tradition regards creative work as an artifact that has been invested with the measure of the authors personality or reflects the authors individuality. Out of respect for the autonomy and humanity of the author, that artifact deserves legal recognition. (Ess, C., Pg. 93).

    Nice job at giving people examples of photos that people can use freely and some available for purchase. This was extremely helpful!

    Lisa Story


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  6. Hello dear! I am a blogger and I was wondering if anybody knows where I can get outstanding free or purchase fashion images, please. Also would you please tell me how to check if a picture is not infringing the copyright law,I mean a website where you can check if it will mention yes its free to use or its copywritten and also indicate its reference, as Google doesn’t really indicate more about this on their search engine or is it me who is not getting it right lol.


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  11. I’m trying to find out if I post a photo of my father’s artwork, will Google Blogspot own it like Facebook does? We wanted to share his artwork with the world, but then someone said if we create a Facebook page for him, Facebook gets to use his work from now on for free. So we didn’t do it. Now, with this covid-19 threat, I have started to blog all my possessions to share with my neices and nephews so they can say what pieces they want to inherit. Part of my possessions are the paintings my dad did. But once again, I don’t want Google to gain ownership of the images. Any advice? Oh, the blog is only for my family. Nobody else will know about it.


    • Hi Ann. Unfortunately, I’m unfamiliar with Blogspot’s terms and conditions, and it may be best for you to pose the question in Blogspot’s Community help section. Making the blog private (only viewable by family) may mean that the images couldn’t be reused without your permission, but again, that’s just a guess. You should be able to submit the question here: — Rocky


  12. If I did a post like ’15 Ikea products ….’ or something of the sort, can I use pics from the Ikea website? Or how would I go about finding out if I can? I tried reading their policies but the legal jargon can get quite confusing and I’m sure in the future there will be other companies I need to look up for the same reason.

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