Images are an integral and very important part of any website.  Images help set the look and feel of the site; as well as being a great way to deliver information to your readers.  One of the questions I’m often asked is “can I use this image?”  The answer is quite simple – you can if you have the right permission to use it. Clear as mud???

Many people will look on Google Images to find an appropriate image to use.  The big thing to remember is just because an image appears in Google Images doesn’t mean you have permission to use it.  You still need to go through the process of ensuring you have the right permission.  You really can’t just find an image on Google Images and save it off – this could get you into some trouble.

If you don’t know if you can use an image – don’t use it!

License To Use

A license to use will show you how and where you can use the image.  Some of the licensing restrictions I’ve seen include:

  • Whether the image may be used on the Web and / or in Print
  • How many prints the image may have
  • How many web views the image may have
  • Whether the image may be used in commercial applications. i.e TShirts, Coffee Cups etc
  • How much you have to pay each time the image is used
  • Whether attribution (recognition) for the image creator has to be given

A license typical doesn’t transfer the Copyright of the image to you.  The Copyright is still owned by the person (or company) that created the image.

Apart from a commercial license (as you would normally get from a Stock Photo site) there is also the Creative Commons License agreement. Creative Commons is a set of free licenses which cover fair use and allow creators to reserve some rights for themselves while freeing up the work for the benefit of the public.  I really like Creative Commons licensing because anyone can use it.  If you want to share your photo’s and let people use them, you can easily choose the best creative commons license and give people access.

Finally, there is Public Domain. Content (not just images) that is not covered by any copyright and are available free of charge is called public domain content.  Images may fall into this category. Images (and content) whose copyright have expired also fall under the public domain. It’s important to note that an image that is free of charge, may still be copyrighted; only available under a creative commons license; or public domain – you need to make yourself aware of what applies.

Finding Images  To Use

If you’re looking for free images to use, try the Creative Commons search function (you can even add it to your browser!).

Creative Commons Search

You can most certainly use Google Images to search – but you need to use the Advanced Search to find images:

Google Image Search


Google Images - Advanced Search

Flickr lets you search for images to use:

Flickr Creative Commons Screen 1

Flickr: Creative Commons Search 3

Flickr: Creative Commons 2

Or you can use a Stock Photo website.  There’s a heap out there but here are some that I’ve found that are really cost effective:

When using a stock photo site, be familiar with the licenses that are provided. Different sites have different terms – so don’t get caught out.

Someone has an image I want to use

Just because someone has an image on their website that I would really like to use, can I do that?  Unless you have permission from the owner of that image, DO NOT USE IT.

Permission may be granted on the website itself, along with the terms of use for images; or you may need to contact the site owner to request permission.  If you don’t get a response to your enquiry, don’t use the image.

Just because you find an image on a website, that website may not have permission to use that image either.  It’s the start of a slippery slope.

My recommendation is if you find an image that you really like, use the Google Image search to find the original owner of the image.  This is not simple, but here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Save the image to my hard drive

Right click on the image and choose “Save Image As”

Save Image

Step 2: Head to Google Images and choose “Image Search”



Step 3: Check out “Pages that include matching images”


You will still have some research and contacting to do, but it will get you an awful long way in finding out who to seek permission from.


  1. You can’t use just image you find on the Internet. Make sure you have (and save) the permission to use the image
  2. Use legitimate sources for your images – Creative Commons and Stock Photo sites
  3. Request permission for personal photo’s before you use them.

Do you have any other tips to add?

About the Author Charly Dwyer

Charly has more than 30 years experience in the IT industry ranging from hands-on technical, to high-level business management, Charly has installed and configured computing equipment and has managed business contracts in excess of $25 million dollars.

As a result, Charly identifies the best way to integrate solutions and technologies for the most cost effective way to achieve a businesses outcome.

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