All of the listed stock photo sites collect photos, videos, and illustrations from artists who allow their creations to be used free of charge. Some of these photos are public domain, meaning there’s no restriction on how they are used, while other photos have some type of Creative Commons license. To be a good digital citizen, and to avoid any copyright infringement potential, it’s important to understand Creative Commons photo licensing and what it means for you.
Creative Commons is like a pond full of artwork that everyone is allowed to visit and fish freely from. Artists put their media in the great fish pond of Creative Commons and allow anyone to access them for their own use. Images in the fish pond with a CC0 1.0
(Creative Common Zero) designation are public domain, free-to-use images that can be modified in any way and used for any commercial or non-commercial purpose without permission from the artist. After zero, there are six additional Creative Commons license classifications that range from the most relaxed to the most restricted rules of use. If a photo or video has a Creative Commons
(CC) copyright license, it’s still free for you to use, it just means that the artists dictate how the photos must be credited.
Here are two examples of Creative Commons licenses:
is the most relaxed type of CC license. An image with a CC attribution license allows you to change the art in anyway you want and to use it (commercially or not) in anyway you want, as long as you credit the artist
is the most restrictive CC license. It allows you to use the art non-commercially, but only if you credit the creator and do not modify the art in any way
Commercial use is when you use photos or videos in a for-profit way. This could include using stock photos on your e-commerce website, as backgrounds in a shop-able Instagram post, or any other way in which you are intending to earn money. Even if you’re building a personal blog, it might be wise to choose stock images that are approved for commercial use, in case you ever decide to monetize your site. It’s important to respect the CC licenses of the images you choose and comply with their requirements. Just like you want credit for the work you do in your business, many photographers and artists want to be credited for their work. Everyone wins! Royalty Free Images
There’s a difference between a royalty free image and a free image to use. Royalty free images aren’t actually free. Instead, royalty free means that you pay for usage rights of the image only once. After that, you can legally re-use the image as often as you like (meaning you can print it in your brochures, then on your website, then on your business cards, forever. Stock photo sites often provide a mix of Creative Commons photos (free pictures to use—you just have to comply with copyright licenses) and royalty free images (pay for usage rights of a photo once, then re-use as often as you like). It will be obvious which photos are free to download and which have a fee.