Blog Image Sources That Won’t Get You Sued!

All original works have a copyright the minute an individual creates the work, and this ownership does not require an official registration to be recognized. Copyright applies to all mediums, including print and digital, and protects the interests of the originator by preventing others from using their work without permission. Material posted on the Internet is equally covered by copyright, and therefore can’t be used without the creator’s permission.

Under U.S. copyright law, a copyright owner can reproduce, distribute, sell, rent, lend, perform, display, communicate and/or adapt the work, and can authorize others to do the same. However, aside from specific circumstances, performing any of these acts without the copyright holder’s permission is an illegal infringement on their rights. This publication explains the basics.

The doctrine of “fair use” permits restricted use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission under these established, specific circumstances: If the reproduction is used for comment, criticism, news reporting, scholarship, teaching, or research. Use of screenshots to guide the reader through an educational tutorial posted on your blog should fall under this exception. If your intention is to profit from a screenshot or any other reproduction of a copyrighted image, you are breaking the law.

Although many of us have casually used a Google search to locate and grab images to use in our posts, when we do this we are using copyrighted material illegally, whether we’re aware of the laws or not. Time to drop the habit. Don’t shy away from using images completely, however. Art, screenshots, and photographs help keep readers interested by providing visual breaks in the copy. Here are a few great image sources that won’t get you in legal hot water.

Take your own photographs

Yes, it’s me!

Digital cameras are compact, fairly inexpensive, and simple to use. Even camera phone photo resolution has improved to the point that these digital images have become a reliable resource. Using either of these tools, you can snap pictures of your travels, friends, family, interesting road signs, notes you’ve written, goals, scenery, and pets. How about your book on a bookstore shelf? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

If you don’t have the pre-installed Accessories program “Paint” on your computer, you can also use the free online editing software Pixlr to perform basics like cropping photos.

Create your own art
I use InDesign to create simple images (although I’m not an expert with the software), but any graphics program will work. The file can be exported to .pdf, then opened in Photoshop (yeah, no, I’m definitely not a Photoshop aficionado, but I can crop an image and save it as a .jpg.) You could potentially also use Word’s Publisher or a Word doc to create an image or design, then export the file to .pdf. Then you’ll need to find a way to save the .pdf as a .jpg or .png file, whatever your blog will allow you to upload.

Need more ideas about how to convert a .pdf to a .jpg? Refer to this article, 6 Ways To Convert A PDF To A JPG Image. The online application Zamzar is mentioned there – I haven’t tried it. Somebody please test it out and tell us what you think.

Use screen shots
Screen shots can be especially helpful in how-to posts. To make a proper screen shot, follow the instructions here: How do I take a screenshot? OR, use the online software, Snagit. Readers, how do you use screen shots to enhance a blog post? Please leave a comment and share!

Free Digital
Free Digital is an an online photo resource that MAY be free IF you include an attribution. Per the site, “Download free and premium stock photos and illustrations for websites, advertising materials, newspapers, magazines, ebooks, book covers and pages, music artwork, software applications and much more. All our free images are of high quality, produced by our community of professional stock photographers and digital illustrators. Royalty free photos for corporate and personal use.”

If you use one of their images, you must publish an acknowledgement on the same page or screen where the image is used. If you are unable to publish an acknowledgement, you must purchase the image to use it legally. Don’t take my word as gospel here! For more information, refer to their Acknowledgement page.

Important Note: I am not an expert on the use of photos from this website – do your own research. In other words, be accountable!

Use Creative Commons images available for “commercial use”
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Creative Commons images have been made available by the originator for others to use. You can search for images using their webpage, or find them using Flickr’s search page. For more information, read The Passive Guy’s post, Using Creative Commons to Find Photos You Can Use.

Purchase inexpensive images online from photo and clip art sites
You can purchase low-cost, royalty-free stock images online from well known websites such as Graphic River, Fotosearch and my favorite, iStockphoto. I find that iStock is among the least expensive and has an extensive image library, so I registered for a pay-as-you-go account that allows me to purchase images as I need them. It’s fun and simple!

That’s all I’ve got! But I know you readers also have great suggestions about image sources and resources you can share. What’s your go-to resource for legal blog, book cover and newsletter images?

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24 Responses to Blog Image Sources That Won’t Get You Sued!

  1. Kathi h September 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Thank you for this. As a photographer I am very careful to give attributes and see when and if I can use a photo. Remind your readers this applies to artwork also. Best wishes, Kathi

    • Molly Greene September 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

      Thanks Kathi! There’s so much to learn about social media, the Internet, copyright law, and what we can and can’t do!

  2. Kirsten September 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    I love putting images on my blog, so I have a few sources that are free or very low cost:
    Morgue File (free, give attribution to the site and the artist)

    Stock Exchange (free, give attribution to the site and the artist, sometimes notification of the artist is requested)

    Big Stock (pay as you go, but reasonable, attribution required)

    Thanks for the informative post!

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      Thanks Kirsten for the tips! Exactly what we need, because the more resources we have the easier it will be to stay out of trouble :-O

  3. Belinda Pollard (@Belinda_Pollard) September 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Hi Molly

    A good warning. It’s terrible what happened to Roni. We can all so easily slip into copyright mistakes, without ever meaning to hurt anyone else.

    These days, I mostly take my own photos and draw my own illustrations, to avoid the problems. This has the added benefit that I LOVE mucking around with Photoshop and Illustrator, so it is a sterling opportunity to procrastinate while appearing virtuous. 😉

    One thing I’ve found that people often don’t realise: the photograph belongs to the person who took it, even if it’s a photo of YOU! I had to pay extra for my professional photo I use on my blogs and Twitter, so that I had the copyright permissions to use it in that way.

    iStockphoto has some nice images and is another image library I find has pretty reasonable prices, especially for the low resolution images we need for blogs.

    And a tip to save you a step… you can make a jpeg directly from InDesign. It’s under File/Export.

    Thanks for another great post. B

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 6:56 am #

      Belinda! I didn’t know it was possible to make a jgp cirectly from an InDesign file. THANKS for telling me – that sure cuts out a step. And thank you for your wonderful comment, as always!

  4. Jane Steen September 11, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Stock.Xchng ( is a great free stock photo site I’ve been using for a long time. If you search on a keyword it will show you the free photos and also paid content from the excellent I always leave a thank-you comment on the photo’s page and attribute the photo at the bottom of my blog post so that the photographer gets some cred.

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 6:53 am #

      THANKS, Jane! Exactly what we need, I appreciate it!

  5. Roni Loren September 11, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for linking to my post and for listing all the great resources. I’ve been really happy with the creative commons selections on Flickr and literally replaced pics on over 700 blog posts with those. And I have been taking more photos of my own since all this happened. Live and learn.

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      Roni, the fabulousness of social media is how willing so many are to share their experiences, good and bad. Scared us all on to the “straight and narrow.” Thanks so much for the reminder!

  6. Maureen Grenier September 11, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you so much for this! Good information and a good reminder. I’ll definitely check out free digital

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Check all the suggestions in comments as well, Maureen – some great alternatives w/ links there, too!

  7. Laura Zera September 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Hi Molly, I looked at all three posts (Roni’s, Meghan’s and yours) and didn’t see anything about clip art. I have been using photos from MS Word clip art but would like someone to verify for me that that’s okay, and yes, they’re free to use.

    • Laura Zera September 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      I should also add that when I Google on it, the Microsoft site itself says “download royalty-free images….” so I am 99.99% sure it’s okay to use clip art, then.

    • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Hi Laura! I Googled it. Go here to read what they say:

      • Laura Zera September 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

        Thanks, Molly. A few more click-throughs got me to the End User License Agreement for Word, which states:

        Media Elements and Templates. You may have access to media images, clip art, animations, sounds, music, video clips, templates and other forms of content (“media elements”) provided with the software or as part of a service associated with the software. You may copy and use the media elements in projects and documents. You may not (i) sell, license or distribute copies of the media elements by themselves or as a product if the primary value of the product is the media elements; (ii) grant your customers rights to further license or distribute the media elements; (iii) license or distribute for commercial purposes media elements that include the representation of identifiable individuals, governments, logos, trademarks, or emblems or use these types of images in ways that could imply an endorsement or association with your product, entity or activity; or (iv) create obscene or scandalous works using the media elements. For more information, go to

        So, given those terms, it’s okay to use clip art for a basic blog.

        • Molly Greene September 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

          YAY! So Laura, does that mean everyone who purchases Microsoft Word software is entitled to use their images (let’s say for non-commercial use)? … and where do we access the images – on their website?

  8. Matthew Hanrahan September 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks for the article Molly! Short, too the point, and super informative! It was a great read. Good luck with all your future endeavors!

  9. Shannon Donnelly September 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Using text to create images is a great idea. I use a lot of my own photos (much easier that way).

  10. Elle Marie Morgan September 22, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    I didn’t create my own web site but did supply some of its images so I am happy to see now others are looking for ways to save money and stay out of court. 🙂

    Thanks, Molly!

  11. jevvv August 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    My two favourite stock photo sites are RGB Stock – a community of people who take photos and make them available; and Stock Exchange, now called Free Images after change of ownership The old SXC web address will still take you there and your old login is still valid 🙂

    • Molly Greene August 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Thanks so much for the ideas!