Using photos responsibly – Licenses and restrictions

Some of you have asked about using images sourced from the internet.
As an artist and designer and creator of content, you should be knowledgeable and respectful of the sources you use in your work.

Some links:


There are cautionary tales to consider where well known artists have been involved in enormous legal battles around their re-use of images in their work. Here’s Shepard Fairy and Jeff Koons as examples.

Shepard Fairy Jeff Koons


So what are some ways to source images online that are respectful of the people that created them?

1. Compfight

Here’s one tool called
When you do an image search, you can select Creative Commons license which means that it wills pull images that have licenses with conditions that may allow for re-use.

Screenshot 2014-02-15 11.22.27

When you select an image it will tell you what kind of license the artist used.

Screenshot 2014-02-15 11.28.13

When you click the license, you’ll get some details:

Screenshot 2014-02-15 11.30.00


 2. The Flickr Commons

Another option is going directly to The Flickr Commons
“The key goal of The Commons is to share hidden treasures from the world’s public photography archives.”
This is a FANTASTIC place to find archival images.

Screenshot 2014-02-15 11.32.49

It’s worth reading the Rights Statement that explains why these images may be free to use.

About the Rights Statement
Participating institutions may have various reasons for determining that “no known copyright restrictions” exist, such as:

  1. The copyright is in the public domain because it has expired;
  2. The copyright was injected into the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to adhere to required formalities or conditions;
  3. The institution owns the copyright but is not interested in exercising control; or
  4. The institution has legal rights sufficient to authorize others to use the work without restrictions.

More info here
It is worth noting that many of the rights statements include a sentence that reads like this:
“We ask You to make a source reference to our collections when republishing the images.”
Which means that you should be mindful of the images you use before you launch them into the world via Tumblr, youtube, facebook, etc.


Here’s a Prezi from the University of Hawaii on Digital Image use:
Visual Literacy and Digital Images Guides for College Students. Learn how to find images online, understand copyright issues, practice a critical eye for identifying credible sources, and use/cite digital images properly.

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