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sara callahan

sara callahan Owner/President

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It's On The Internet, So It Must Be Free


The web provides a plethora of content including articles, editorials, infographics, images, videos, and photographs.  While this content creates a great visual experience for web browsing and researching, it’s important to keep in mind copyright and intellectual property right laws if you wish to utilize any content on a website, blog or online channel.

Many people still believe they can just “right click” and copy whatever they want and use it on a blog, website, presentation, or podcast. That is certainly not the case.

If it is not originally produced in-house, images and videos must be licensed from the image owner or a stock photo source. There are numerous providers that offer photos, images and videos. However, be careful, as there are often limitations to how, when, and where these images may be used.

Currently there are two types of licenses available for images:  Royalty-Free and Rights Managed. 

Royalty-Free images are low in price and can, in most cases, be used for digital and print projects without any further expense. Print projects do require a higher resolution image and, depending upon the purchase source, are more expensive than a small lower-resolution image for a website. 

Some popular sites for these images are Bigstock Photo, iStockPhoto, Fotolia, and Shutterstock.  These offer either monthly or annual subscriptions, or a pay-as-you-go model. The images in these collections change based on seasonal themes. Their low price means the image may pop up on a large number of projects, advertisements, eBooks, etc. 

There is also the risk that a competitor will use the same image in their ad campaigns. In 2004 Dell and Gateway used the same image in their back-to-school ad campaigns.  

Rights Managed (RM) images are utilized when companies don’t have a budget for a photographer to shoot photos for their projects, but would prefer something more exclusive than the Royalty-Free option. The license is worded in such a way that it protects the buyer for a set period of time, in select media channels, so as to avoid brand confusion.

For example, if a company were to run a Spring Cleaning event, it could license the image for a 60 day period, during the promotional campaign. After that time period it no longer has use of the image without renewing the license. These licenses can run over $1,000 or more, but can be less expensive than custom photography.

Popular RM sources include Corbis Images, Getty Images, and SuperStock, which all also offer royalty-free images. The quality, selection, and price of images varies widely based on the company utilized and the use of the image.  It is important to read the license agreement to know the terms of usage and what is legally allowed. 

Earlier this year an associate built a website and just “grabbed a photo” off the Internet and posted it on their website.  A few months later they were contacted by the legal department of Getty Images. Getty is very proactive in protecting their image library and the client was sent an invoice for un-authorized use of the image.  The penalty was $1,200, as the image was from a Rights Managed photo collection. Pleading ignorance, or that “someone else did it,” is not a legal excuse for copyright violations.

Looking for totally free images?   Yes there are a few sources offering unrestricted use. However, as you can imagine, they are somewhat limited in selection and might come with strings attached.

  • Free images are available through WikiMedia Commons but the selection is limited and a credit line is required. 
  • posts 10 new photos every 10 days, but most are landscapes or other topics and may not be appropriate for business topics.  
  • also offers images of an eclectic nature with no strings attached.  The photographer, Ryan McGuire does invite users to “buy him a coffee” via Paypal 
  • Free techy photos are available from Startup Stock Photos, and again selection is geared to startups, bloggers and other web developers.  

When creating websites, print projects and trade show materials, be sure to check that your images are legally obtained.  Ask the designer to provide validation of licenses. Or, have a contract in place that holds the agency, designer, or developer responsible for any copyright violations. 
Great images add power to great content and there are many images out there. Just be sure to play by the rules to avoid problems down the road.

Lauren Moses
Sara, Great article. Another great site that I have found for stock images and where people often upload their own photography images (knowingly allowing people to use them for free) is It is alot like the that you mentioned in that you can buy a coffee via paypal, but you can also follow the artist that submitted the work.
Alex Lau
Just recently sold Actually, I made a mistake as I was one of the first administrators at and didn't jump at the opportunity to try and work for them. Bought out by Getty for a cool $55M, but that was many years ago. Hindsight is 20/20, eh?

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