How to Acquire Visual Social Marketing Images from Free, Licensed Image Sites

By Krista Neher

One of the easiest ways to avoid copyright issues with images for visual social marketing is to ensure that any images you use are acquired legally. A number of websites allow businesses to use images for free.

When using free image sites, you still have to ensure that the images can be used commercially and that no restrictions or requirements are placed on the commercial use of the image. For example, a common requirement on images that are free to use is that the creator of the image must be credited whenever the image is used publicly.

Review the license of any image used commercially to ensure that your intended use of the image falls within the licensing agreement.

Try the strategies described in the following list to find free images to use commercially in your business:

  • Free stock-photography sites: Many sites were created specifically to provide free images for businesses and individuals to use, even commercially. A simple search for free stock photos at your favorite search engine shows many stock-photography sites that allow businesses to use photos for free. Stock.xchng is a great site for free images, especially for blog posts.

    When using images from free sites, check the license for the terms of use. Many of these sites may still require that the photographer be given credit or be notified whenever the image is used publicly or commercially.

    The quality and selection of images on free stock-photography sites may be lower than at sites that charge fees.

  • Google Images or a similar search engine: Search for commercially usable images.

    You can’t simply use any image that appears in the search results on your website or in your social media marketing efforts. An advanced search at Google Images includes the option to find images licensed for commercial use.

    Google Images is simply an option at the main Google search site that lets you search specifically for images. To find images that are licensed for commercial use by way of searching Google Images, follow these steps:

    1. Conduct an image search for any term you choose.

    2. Open the advanced search settings by clicking the gear icon in the upper-right corner and clicking Advanced Search.

    3. In the Usage Rights section, toward the bottom of the Advanced Search page, select Free to Use, Share or Modify, Even Commercially.

      This option filters the image results from the search to show only images that allow for business use.

    The images found in an advanced search at Google Images or a similar site may have additional requirements or restrictions. Though an advanced search shows images that can be used commercially, you must verify the license and its requirements by clicking through to the site where the image is hosted.

  • Commercial images at Flickr: Flickr, one of the largest photography communities online, uses a licensing system known as Creative Commons to provide licenses for the images on its site. This system allows photographers to choose who can use their photos and in what way. Many photographers who upload their photos to Flickr allow businesses to use their images commercially under the Creative Commons license.

    To find images on Flickr that can be used commercially, search on Flickr and select the advanced search options. Then select the Creative Commons license option Free to Use, Even Commercially. The search results then display only images that can be used commercially.

    As with other free-photography sites, check for restrictions and requirements before using the images for your business.