Images and Copyright: The Basics for Bloggers

Images and copyright basics for bloggers: Creative Commons, free photo license, and pay-for-license

This topic seems to have been popular lately, and it was part of this week’s Share Your World on Sparks from a Combustible Mind, so I thought I would address it in this post.  How do you stickhandle copyright when using images on your blog?

Just like a blog post, creators automatically have copyright over any images they post.  No one can use that image unless the creator has given permission.  There are a few ways that permission can happen.

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses allow others to use a creator’s work in a certain way based on the type of license.  The different licenses are based on:

  • whether the work can be used commercially or only for non-commercial purposes
  • whether others can adapt your work
  • whether others using the work must attribute it to the creator

Pixabay (and other free site) licenses

If you go to download an image on Pixabay, underneath the download button, you’ll see this message: “Pixabay License.  Free for commercial use.  No attribution required.”  If you click through to the full Pixabay license you’ll see more details.  When anyone posts their images on sites like Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash, etc., they are agreeing to make the image available under the site’s license.

Because the site’s license specifies that no attribution is required, you are free to use that image on your site without saying where it came from.  If other people take issue with that, then that’s their problem, because the license specifically states that you don’t have to provide the source.  Sure, it’s courteous to give credit, but 100% not required.

Shutterstock and other paid sites

You can find these on sites like Shutterstock themselves, or you may see them as sponsored images displayed alongside your search results on sites like Pixabay.  Shutterstock’s images are royalty-free, meaning you don’t need to pay a royalty with each use, but you do have to purchase a license to use the images.  These images would typically have a watermark or some other indicator that they are Shutterstock images that haven’t been paid for.

Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia requires that any images posted on its site be either in the public domain (copyright-free) or under Creative Commons or similar license that allows others to use the work.  Wikimedia Commons is a central collection of all of the images on Wikipedia pages.

Google Images

Google Images is a completely different ballgame from sites like Pixabay.  It’s not the source of the images it displays and doesn’t have any rights to those images, so attributing an image to Google Images is meaningless.  It’s a search engine, and it displays all of the images it finds on every webpage that it crawls.

Let’s consider the image that’s part of this post.  I’ve used a Pixabay-license image, but the overall image is mine.  It will show up in Google Image search results, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given anyone permission to use it.  Let’s say it was something fancier that didn’t have my website address on it.  If you were to grab that image from Google Images and use it on your site, you would be infringing on my copyright.

One way of dealing with this is to attribute the source not to Google Images, but to the site where the images originally appears.  You still may not actually have permission to use the image, but you’re giving credit where credit is due.

Google Images screenshot showing usage rights

Another option is captured in the screenshot above from Google Images.  You do your search, and then click on the tools button that’s shown on the right below the search bar.  Once you click tools, you will see a submenu show up with size, colour, usage rights, etc.  Click on “usage rights”, then click “labeled for reuse.”  Google will then filter your search results and only show you images that have been marked by the original website as being free for others to use.


Like Google Images, Pinterest is never the source of images.  Think of it this way – if someone quoted a couple of paragraphs from your blog on their site, and attributed it to, would you feel that you had been properly credited?  On Pixabay, the source might be whatever URL the pin is linked to, but not necessarily.

The problem with Pinterest is that it’s hard to tell whether or not the image creator gave permission for the image to be reused.  A lot of things posted on Pixabay are meant to be reused, but people can also post things in violation of the creator’s copyright.  If you’re active on Pinterest you’ve probably gotten notices that some of your pins have been deleted because the original poster violated copyright.

So how to navigate this?  If the image has the creator’s link and/or logo, that’s a good sign.  If you’re going to use a pinned image, you can include a link either to the pin itself, or to the site that the pin actually links to.

Other sites

A good rule of thumb is that any images you come across are copyrighted and you can’t use them unless you’re given permission.  That will probably be addressed in a site’s terms and conditions.  For example, Brainy Quotes says you’re allowed to use their images on social media as long as you provide a link back to their site.

Fair Use

Copyright does not preclude against “fair use”.  According to Stanford University Libraries,  Fair use is “for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work.”  Transformative in this sense refers to the addition of new meaning, whether that be through review, critique, or parody.


A few questions to consider when using an image in a blog post:

  • Have I been given permission to use this image?
  • Has the image creator/source placed any conditions on that permission?
  • Unless the creator/source has indicated that attribution is not required, have I given credit to the creator/source of the image?
  • If this was an image I created on my blog, would I be comfortable with someone else using it and attributing it in the same manner I am attributing this image?

When it comes to images and copyright, we’re probably not all going to get it right each and every time.  But I think a good rule of thumb is that people who create images are creators just like we are who have the right to decide how they want their creations to be used.  As long as we’re making an effort to give them the credit they deserve, then that’s what’s most important.

For tips on blogging basics, check out the New Blogger’s Guide to WordPress.

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29 thoughts on “Images and Copyright: The Basics for Bloggers”

    1. Copyright automatically belongs to you for anything that you have created. One way to make this clear is if you say something like Copyright Beckie Cutler 2019 All Rights Reserved (all rights reserved means that you’re not giving up any part of your copyright)

  1. I use Pixabay more than anything else. Once in a while I look for public domain photos, especially for posts about classic art or literature, since much of that is public domain now. Or I use my own pics!

  2. I’m on my period and am a total crabapple, so don’t take this personally! Bad Meg is in a bad, bad, bad, crabby crabapple mood. Um, do you know the origin of “rule of thumb”? Erckle. Oh my gosh, I’m pathetic. I need a shower and I’m crabby as a crabapple. I wanted my period to start so it’d be over before traveling, but now it’s here and I’m just like, UUUHHH. Nightmares all night, sorry, I’m probably taking over your blog. Bad nightmares. Anyway, images? Whenever I put images in my blogs, like for illustrative purposes, they’re general pop-culture images from movies or other well-known things, so I always figure it’s free publicity for the pop culture. I’d feel pretty bad doing it with, like, artistic images or nice nature photos. I’ve never even thought about it, though! Yikes!

      1. Thank you for the support! Timeline-wise, I think I will! But I’m worried ’cause I’m in a horrid mood and don’t want to get all bleak and self-destructive!! More chocolate is called upon!

  3. Thank you for this insightful post. Looking for images can be a challenge, I waste way too much time on it I think. I wonder if they are really that needed. I love the BrainyQuote link, I didn’t knew about them.

  4. Thank you for providing this information. I had no idea that you couldn’t use google images. I figured if it was public ..that it was free. Yikes. I will refrain from using images…unless I get them from the sites you mentioned. Thank you for educating me.

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