There’s so much conflicting advice out there when it comes to using Royalty free or Copyright free reference images and those two terms mean completely different things and it can be a fairly overwhelming experience.
You want to make sure you get this right because otherwise you could be slapped with a hefty fine and nobody wants that!
Let’s start by defining the two above.
Royalty free generally means using a copyrighted image, or someones intellectual property without needing to pay a royalty fee, or paying a one off fee for use of the item under specific terms. The image you use is still protected under copyright and the copyright remains with the original creator.
Copyright free means that the item is not protected under copyright laws. These items may still have a fee to pay for use, or they may be free and use is not restricted unless terms are agreed upon.
Essentially, royalty free doesn’t necessarily mean FREE. It just means that you’re free of paying royalties for each use, or for a specific period of time. Generally, these images still remain the copyrighted material of the original creator and are not cool to use or distribute as your own. The original owner can still file a copyright claim if they feel their image is being used in a manner it was not intended. With royalty free images, you must comply with the use, otherwise you break the license agreement.
Using royalty free images does not guarantee that you won’t run into copyright issues, like mentioned above. The copyright stills sits with the original creator and they can act whenever and however they wish with regards to their image being used or recreated.
Don’t let this scare you into not using reference images! You can still use reference images from free sites and catalogues, but you need to make sure that you REALLY look into the license that comes with each image you download and use.
Make sure you use reputable reference sites and make sure you look into their license before creating any works from their images. Each site has different licensing agreements and it’s best to familiarise yourself with each site you use.
I like to use Pixabay and Wildlife Reference Photos for my work. Pixabay is a free to download site and each image uploaded holds it own license, a majority of them holding a “Pixabay License” and also detailing the attribution required and whether or not it can be used for commercial use. The Pixabay License basically states that you’re not to distribute the image on other stock photo sites (claiming the photo as your own), don’t sell unaltered copies of an image without adding value and not painting any identifiable people in bad light. Pixabay is a Royalty Free site, so the original copyright still remains with the original creator. When uploading, the creator grants the image(s) to be used under the Pixabay License which basically allows to do do whatever you like with the images, within good reason.
Wildlife Reference Photos is, again, a Royalty Free reference image site. The copyright remains with the original author. This site is different in that you pay a one-off fee for the licensing of the image and it’s more tailored towards use for artists. The license doesn’t grant permission to use the images unaltered and stick them on t-shirts for sale.
What’s best to look for in a license? Well, you ultimately, for 100% peace of mind, want to look for Creative Commons “No copyright Reserved”, or CC0, images to use.
An author of an image with this license places the work in the public domain and releases all copyright and allows for the photo to be used however the public chooses.
Make sure your selected image is free for commercial use. This doesn’t necessarily just apply to selling products or a final piece. This also relates to posting and showing work on social media or anywhere there may be a monetary gain.
Pixabay used to hold a few of these images, and various other sites hold a fair amount.
So, what’s important to keep in mind?
- Choose a site that has good standing and look at the sites licensing
- When choosing your image, look at the individual image license as it can differ from the site license.
- Look out for CC0 images to use
- Don’t use an image from google search, this is NEVER a good idea, especially not for commercial usage.
- Choose a free for commercial use image
This is a fairly lengthy post, but it’s such an important issue as you want to avoid any potential backlash from copyright owners for future.
If you have anything you would like to add, or anything you feel needs adding or changing to this post, leave me a comment!