What You Need to Know About Image Copyrights

Trillions upon trillions of images are floating around the world wide web, with several million more being added every minute of the day. With platforms like Flickr, Instagram, and Pinterest making photo sharing a breeze, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s happening to the images you put online – and who has the right to use them. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the steps of protecting your images and making sure that you’re using someone else’s images correctly.

How to License Your Work Online

If you want to make sure that the content you put online is protected by copyright, Creative Commons has you covered. Whether it’s images, music, videos, or text, Creative Commons has a straightforward licensing system that helps you make sure that your content is only being used with your consent. A 4-step process is all that’s needed: Simply decide whether it’s okay for others to use your work commercially or to make changes to it, select your license, enter some information about what you’re licensing, and bingo, you’re licensed.


How to Protect Your Work Online

Even when you’ve gone the lengths to protect your work through Creative Commons, it’s prudent to take some extra measures and check in on where your online content has wandered off to every once in a while.

Reverse Image Search: If you’re curious to see where your images are popping up, Google has a nifty system. Instead of typing in a search term, you can upload or drag & drop a photo into the search bar to see how many times your images have been reproduced. Even if your image doesn’t show up, Google will show similar images in terms of composition and colour, which helps to suss out images that have been heavily cropped or re-formatted.


Watermarks: Improperly or unlabeled images on the web tend to be particularly vulnerable to prying hands, and watermarks can go a long way to avoid any confusion as to whether others are allowed to use your work for their own purposes. Wikihow has a good step-by-step explanation of how to add watermarks to your photos using Photoshop and Picasa, but there are also other tools available.


PicMarkr lets you add a text or image-based watermark to any image with their free service. At the pro level, PicMarkr is useful for adjusting the size and angle of whole batches of photos. It’s also connected to Flickr, so that you can update all your Flickr photos with watermarked versions in one go.


Watermarks should always include the “©” symbol along with your name, the year of release, and a URL, if possible. While some suggest that a watermark should be so big that it ruins a work’s artistic integrity, most don’t go this far. A simple text at the bottom of the image usually suffices to clarify any copyright questions someone might have.

How to Know if An Image You Find Is OK to Use

These days, there are very few excuses for ambiguous copyrights on online content. The Golden Rule: If you’re not sure whether or not an image is okay to use for your own purposes, check until it can be verified – or use another image. Nobody looks very kindly on copyright infringement these days, especially when it comes at the cost of a paycheque for a hard-working creative.


When you’re searching for an image to use on your website or blog, it’s best to start at places where all the images on file are free to use. Wikipedia Commons and Flickr Creative Commons are the popular free image databases, but smaller, more curated image databases like IM Free are a great place to look when you don’t feel like sorting through thousands and thousands of images.

Image Credits:

Get Your Camera Out by Thomas Leuthard (Creative Commons)

Copyright symbol (Public Domain CC0)


Erez is the online marketing director of IM Creator. Erez writes about web design as a business, online marketing, and website building tips.

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