How to find free photos and graphics online David Trilling, with an opening by staff writers
With the ludicrous announcement this week that government is considering media control in Namibia, we thought we’d give some tips on how to get online photo content ethically and legally for use in any publication.
Since there are dictatorial fantasies among pockets of our decision-makers about unilaterally weakening the Constitution (yet again) to legislatively limit media freedom (good luck with that), those wishing to publish things should actually try to take a look at how we do things and see what can be done better. It makes sense for anyone publishing anything to learn a bit more about how to capture online images for use with their news articles, editorials or even in local/traditional/educational institution newsletters, fliers, bulletins and journals.
All who have blogs, cyber ads or post online on any platform (Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc…) or even church communities publishing their Sunday bulletins and community announcements beware! Find ways to reproduce eye-catching graphics, without stealing someone else’s intellectual property.
Enjoy the freely reproduced and duly credited editorial below.
Are you posting a story on your website or blog? You may want an illustration — what newspaper editors sometimes call “art” — to accompany it. If you’ve shot a photo or you work at a news agency and can use something from a staff photographer, then great. If not, what do you do?
First, let’s be clear: It is not OK to snatch photos off the internet and post them on your site. Unfortunately, such bad habits have become common among many media organisations. If you use a photo that’s not yours and you don’t have permission, that’s copyright infringement. Not only is it wrong, but the creator could pursue legal action.
Fortunately for a bare-bones newsroom or independent writer or blogger, there are loads of websites offering free or “public domain” photos and clip art. But before we know what to look for, we need to understand the basics of how images are licensed online.
Copyright vs. public domain
In the United States and European Union, as soon as a photographer hits the shutter and makes an image, the photographer owns the copyright (unless he or she sells those rights to another person or organisation. Sometimes, as in the case of a New York Times photographer shooting for the paper, this is called “work for hire”). Contact the person or organisation for permission. Only they can grant permission or place the work in the public domain.
A public domain image is no longer under copyright protection and may be used freely without permission.
Photos posted on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Snapchat, VKontakte and other social-media platforms are not public domain — they are still covered by the creator’s copyright. There is, however, a “fair use” right — a photo or video clip can sometimes be used if that photo or video is the actual news story.
Many content creators who are willing to share their work use licenses defined by the non-profit group Creative Commons (CC). CC licenses offer photographers and other creators a clear, standardised way to maintain copyright while allowing their work to be used, for free, under certain conditions. CC licenses cannot be revoked.
When work is protected by one of the six CC licenses, it is often accompanied by a short code. Journalists should familiarise themselves with these codes:
BY – This license lets you do anything to the work as long as you credit the source. You can even sell work that contains imagery with a “BY” license.
BY-SA – This allows you to alter or build upon the work (like using it in a collage), as long as you credit the author and license the new work under the same terms.
BY-ND – This license allows you to use the work, as long as it is credited and not altered.
BY-NC – Here you can remix or otherwise alter the work, but you must credit the original content creator and you cannot use the work in any commercial way.
BY-NC-SA – This means you can alter the work as long as you credit the creator, do not use it in a commercial way, and license any new creation under the identical terms (share-alike).
BY-NC-ND – This is the most restrictive of the CC licenses, allowing you to download and share the work with full attribution, but not to alter it in any way or use it commercially.
The photographer can also place a work in the public domain, meaning it is free to use and/or modify without attribution. Sometimes this is called Creative Commons Zero. Once in the public domain, no one can control how content is used.
It’s important to note that there is one problem with CC: Anybody can take a digital file from the internet and upload it and mark it with such a designation. That person may not be the creator and copyright holder.
This article you are reading is licensed under CC.
Public domain image sources
New collections of photos appear online frequently. Here are a few that Journalist’s Resource has used:
Pixabay offers tens of thousands of images in the public domain — free to use without attribution.
Libreshot.com, Unsplash and Public Domain Pictures feature high-resolution, public domain images.
The New York Public Library and British Libraries have huge archive of old photographs.
Wikipedia maintains a long list of public-domain image resources.
iStockPhoto by Getty offers subscriptions to license works and some free imagery.
Many businesses provide handout photos as promotional material.
Government websites: A lot of work by government agencies is in the public domain, but it’s always best practice to attribute.
Foreign governments often work differently. The European Union offers images of European leaders and public buildings for news reports. You must register to download full-size files and they must be credited to the European Union.
GisGeography.com offers a tutorial on accessing free national space agency data and satellite imagery from around the world. NASA has lots of free images too.
Library of Congress — the biggest library in the world houses hundreds of thousands of photographs and drawings in digital form. Many images are free to reproduce (and different download sizes are available), but be sure to check.
The J. Paul Getty museum offers over 100,000 historical images and reproductions of artworks through its Open Content Program.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also offers some imagery.
It is worth repeating that if you are unclear about an image’s licensing restrictions, consult an attorney or your editor. The safest choice might be to forgo using that image and find another.