A common misconception exists: if something is “on the internet,” it belongs to the world at large. But copyright laws extend to any person’s work, regardless of where it’s found. The individual who created the image or article is the copyright holder from the very beginning. No action needs to be taken other than that of creation.
Some images are free and easy to find — several sites offer high quality landscape and abstract images that are free for personal and commercial use, and require no attribution. Images of people should be purchased from reputable stock image agencies, where the photographer has acquired a signed model release for specific uses.
Read the Fine Print
Don’t forget to check appropriate use of images. Some are available for editorial use only — for example, in a newspaper article. Please read the fine print about proper use of images, particularly those of people. You cannot use an image of a model, with recognizable features, to depict an individual as being ill. Sometimes you might contact the photographer to acquire additional permission for use. One solution is to use a silhouette image.
Rights Managed and Royalty Free
Rights Managed images grant exclusive, time-limited and geographic-specific use, and are more expensive — but you aren’t likely to see your perfect image splashed on a bus advertisement. Royalty Free allows non-exclusive, unlimited use of an image; Royalty Free images are inexpensive, but are widely used without limitations.
Public Domain images are those that no longer are covered by copyright law. This article about provides a good explanation of public domain and lists some good online resources.
Commercial Stock Photo Agencies
Go to a commercial agency to find images of people. If you’re confused about appropriate use of an image, call the Customer Service Representative and ask.
An Infographic to Help You Understand
And last, we leave you with this helpful infographic from visual.ly which was developed to help all of us navigate the maze of questions surrounding legal image usage.