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From locating free images to licensing photos, we’ll show you how to locate images that you can use legally.

1. Forget the “right-click-and-save” strategy.

Just because an image is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Google Image Search is an unreliable way to find work that you can use. Most of the content served up by the big search engines is not licensed and is presented in its entirety, without the permission of the content creators, which we feel exceeds the bounds of fair use. In most cases, use of images taken from the Internet requires permission and the correct licenses.

In addition, new technology now enables copyright owners to identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights. Imagery is “fingerprinted” so that it can be tracked and found in use, even if it’s been modified, recreated or only partially used. The image is then flagged to the copyright owner so that they can check whether the correct license or permission is in place.

Any image that you “right-click-and-save” belongs to someone — either the photographer or artist who made it, or a third party who owns the copyright. Copyright law gives the owner the right to control use of their image. While many copyright owners want their image to be used and seen, there are usually restrictions on how, when or where the image may be used. Unless a creator expressly gives up their rights to a work, those rights are reserved. If you use a copyrighted work without permission and it doesn’t qualify as fair use, you’ve infringed on someone’s copyright.

Under the Copyright Act, copyright protection begins from the moment a photo or other image is created. No notice is required, which means that if you find an image on the Internet without a copyright notice, it doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain (work that is not protected by copyright). Due to the complexity surrounding copyrighted images, it’s wise to do some research to determine the copyright status of any work you wish to use.

 2. Find image sources with PicScout.

PicScout enables you to easily find and license commercially available images with a simple search. With more than 140 million images available, you can track down owners of unidentified images anywhere on the Web, which can save time when buying digital content.

PicScout-powered tools help you find license types, pricing and image details directly through their platform or the content provider’s. You can search for image owners simply by using either the drag-and-drop or the upload feature in the PicScout Search tool.

You can also download the free PicScout mobile app right from the iTunes store.

 3. Explore image sources.

Need help finding images you can legally use? Here are some useful definitions and tips to help guide you through the process.

Royalty-free images are available for nearly unlimited commercial use once an initial license fee is paid. That means you can use the image in virtually any application, in as many different projects as you like, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement. Following payment of the license fee, no additional royalty payments are owed, but the original license is necessary to protect yourself and clients, and to do the right thing by the photographer.

Rights-managed images are licensed for specific uses and with restrictions on usage, with limitations placed on duration of use, geographic region, industry, etc, as established by your license agreement.

Editorial images are also rights-managed images, licensed with restrictions on usage, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use and geographic distribution. All images must be used in an “editorial” manner, meaning that it must relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest.



4. Make sure free images are truly free.

Looking for free images? Here are a few tips to help you stay on the right side of copyright law.

The truth is, no matter where images are posted, they will most likely be subject to copyright laws. There’s a difference between an image being online and an image being “in the public domain” (work that is not protected by copyright). While free images are widely available, they typically do not include any legal protection. That means you will be responsible if a claim dispute arises, since most free images suppliers don’t include model or property releases or have inspection processes in place.

Free images are typically low-resolution, so the trade-off is measured in quality. When you “right-click-and-save” a free image, the file is typically low-resolution and will pixelate if you try to enlarge or print it. What’s more, free images can be overused to the point where their impact becomes devalued through overuse in the marketplace. Licensing an image through a photo library may cost a bit, but doing so allows you to choose the best resolution for your project and use it with confidence.

One reliable source for free images is Freeimages. This Getty Images site, which upsells to iStock by Getty Images, is a place where photographers share images with others at no charge. The license terms on Freeimages are clear, and you can easily see whether model and property releases are in place should you want to use one of these images commercially.

Another potential source for free images is Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making it easy for people to share and legally build upon the works of others. Creative Commons (CC) licenses allow content creators to determine which rights they reserve — and which rights they waive — for the benefit of others. Restrictions include whether an image can be used for personal or commercial purposes and whether or not the photographer requires attribution or credit. The CC license is generally not useful for commercial or business use and does not include legal protection, so if a dispute arises about an individual, building, trademark or artistic work in that image, the customer may be liable for that claim. To find out more, visit Creative Commons.

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