Knowing your photo licenses

Knowing Your Photo Licenses

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Photo licenses go far beyond “free” and “paid”. You need to know exact terms of use. I’ve listed here some terms that can help you.


Knowing your photo licenses


The best practice is to check each image individually for license details. There are so many websites that offer free images, it’s easy to make a mistake otherwise. Even if you do pay for an image, you need to know what kind of uses are allowed.


Photo Licenses you should recognize:


Creative Commons: You will see this all the time when searching for free images, because this is actually a CLASS of licenses, with a variety of individual licenses within. All of these are set to help the creative world with their work. You can learn more about the Creative Commons licenses here, but I will not elaborate on the class as a whole, as the practical terms vary.


Here are some terms of the Creative Commons license. You’ll see different combinations of these terms used to explain what you may or many not do:

  • Attribution – You must credit the original owner when you use it.
  • ShareAlike  – Your new image, that was based on theirs, must be licensed under the same terms as the original image was.
  • NonCommercial – You may not use it for commercial use. If you are a blogger who earns a penny off your blog, you may not use it.
  • NoDerivs – You may not modify it.


Public Domain:  Public domain images are free to use, for anyone, for anything. You may see such images licensed under a CC0 license (Creative Commons Zero). That basically means that it’s a “no rights reserved” image – use it as you want.


Other Photo Licenses You May See: 

Private Licenses: Many websites that offer only their own images, (as opposed to image search engines) will have their own terms. Many will require fair use terms, such as not using too many high quality images from one place on one website, not redistributing it, not selling it, not claiming it as your own, etc. Always check each site’s terms. In general, even when using public domain images, be a fair.


Extended License: This applies to paid images on websites such as Shutterstock. I’m including it here, because someone close to me was affected by a designer’s ignorance in the matter. Just because you paid for it, it doesn’t mean that you can use it however you want. When you pay for a stock image, you are paying for a license. Make sure you know what the terms of that license are.

Many stock images will have a “standard license” that works great for bloggers looking for website imagery or graphic designers for promotional materials, and an “extended license” which includes making actual merchandise to be sold. So, if you’re a blogger making merchandise (such as a calendar or worksheet) to sell on your blog, make sure you double check that the license you purchase includes that. You may need to pay an arm and a leg for the “extended” license.


While you may find other licenses around, this is typically what you’ll see when looking for images on the websites I mentioned here. Most places will include a link to the license, although knowing the terms can help you save time and browse more easily.

Repin to help a fellow blogger! Whether you're using free photos or paid ones, it's so important to know your photo licenses. This explains them in the simplest terms.



If you liked this, you’ll love the rest of my blog design series, including: 

Read through the whole series to gain valuable information that will give your blog a well-designed, professional look.

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  1. I didn’t realize there was so much to know when making a blog, thank you. Mi am thinking of starting one but did not know where to start. Also until recently I did not know that I should copyright my own pictures to keep them from being used.

  2. Wow! There’s a lot involved. Glad to know that about pictures – I’ve heard of a case on FB where someone stole anothers’ pic and is using it on her account. I use generic photos.

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