The “Search for the Perfect Image” Challenge

The challenge is how to discern if an image is copyrighted, is royalty-free, has a creative commons license, or is public domain.

I’d also like to add that is information is not meant to bring you doom and gloom, rather it is an effort to find solutions to this ongoing challenge for bloggers and website owners.

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
— Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

First, there are a ton of tools online that are designed to search a particular image to find it’s origins. However, they do not search an entire site for plagiarism, instead, they only search one image at a time. These are designed for the owners of the image to see who is using their image. They are referred to as Image Plagiarism Checkers.

Here is a good example of a plagiarism checker: PlagHunter

If you want to use an image that you find in your own search, these are very good tools, but unnecessary because the Google Advanced Image Search is all you need. (This is also referred to as a Reverse Image Search).

But the good news is, you can set up your own system to check images in advance of use. First, let’s be clear about the terminology surrounding this topic.

The Terminology

• Image Copyright

“Copyright free means just what it says — a copyright free work is not protected by copyright. While you might have to pay a fee to obtain a copy of the work, your use will not be restricted unless you’ve agreed that it will be (in an enforceable contract). The term “copyright free” is often used, mistakenly, where copyrighted works are licensed to the public for free … but with some restrictions on use.” – Public Domain Sherpa

• Royalty-Free

“Royalty-free generally means that you pay a one-time fee in exchange for the right to use a photograph (or some other work protected by copyright, patent, or trademark) according to agreed upon terms, with no ongoing license fees due for further use.” – Public Domain Sherpa

• Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a system that allows content creators to make their work available for certain purposes without requiring express permission. You may have seen Creative Commons (or CC) licenses on sites like Flickr, Wikipedia, or YouTube. There are several different Creative Commons licenses, ranging from quite restricted (you can use the image with attribution, but not for commercial purposes, and you can’t make derivatives) to wide open.

Art Direction and Motion Graphic Design by Bienvenido Cruz

Video license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0

To be safe, look for images with either an attribution-only or a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) License.

Can I Use This Photo on Social Media? Understanding Image Copyright | Hootsuite Blog

The attribution-only CC license looks like this: Image via Creative Commons.

• Public Domain

Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. For example, the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and most of the early silent films are all now in the public domain by either being created before copyrights existed or leaving the copyright term. – Wikipedia Public Domain

• Fair Use

Fair Use is the most disputable area in copyright, as it assumes that you may not have to ask permission from the image owner if you’re using it for getting feedback, criticism or comments, or for the purposes of teaching, educating, reporting news or research. At times, the bond between educational and commercial purposes is unclear on blogs, so it’s better to ask permission and play it safe. – WrittenT

The Caveats & Checklists

If you have any input, please contact me directly through Messenger (bottom right of screen) or the Contact Form on this site. Here are some guidelines I’ve curated. Please note that this is a good list from which to build your own checklist for image use. 

  1. 👌 Never use an image with company branding. There are also caveats to this because some people put branding on their photos so that people WILL share them in an attempt to get free advertising.
    • 👌 But, if you want to avoid plagiarism, it’s best to ask the owner of the image for permission. The downside to this is it is time-consuming and slows down your production.
  2. 👌 Always give credit where credit is due. Do this even if the images are royalty-free or licensed for free use by a source such as Creative Commons. Use the phrase “Image Source” and link it directly to the source of the image on its original website.
    • 👌 Some sites use the name of the photographer or the website name in place of “Image Source” which I think looks nice as long as a set format is used consistently throughout your website so that readers immediately know that it is a source. Here is an excellent article on how to cite images: The Honor Code of a Noble Blogger How to Cite Pictures
  3. 👌 Contact the owners of the image and ask for permission to use the image.

The Solutions

• Google Image Search with Parameters


Use the Google Advanced Image Search to find images that are “free to use or share, even commercially”. Then, go ahead and click through to check the actual page that holds the image, to check for the appropriate license. I wonder how many people are completely unaware that this Google feature exists!

Google Advanced Image Search

WordPress Plugins for Images

There are plugins from some image sites for your WordPress site which allow you to insert images directly into your blog. In the image below, there are plugins for Unsplash and Pixabay. (Flickr also has a plugin for WordPress.)

Image WordPress plugins

WP Pexels – WordPress plugin |

WP Pexels helps you search millions of free photos from then insert into content or set as featured image very quickly.

WP Pixabay – WordPress plugin |

WP Pixabay helps you search millions of free photos, vectors and art illustrations from then insert into content or set as featured image very quickly.

Unsplash Uploads – WordPress plugin |

Instant Images – One Click Unsplash Uploads – WordPress plugin | Instant Images is the fastest and easiest way to upload high quality FREE photos from directly to your media library.

Please note that if you are a premium member of Canva, you have access to not only millions of images from Canva but also images from Pixabay and Pexels.

Image Resources List

Headline for Elegant Content Digital Images • Low to No-cost

Unsplash | Beautiful, free pictures. Explore popular picture categories on Unsplash. All photos are free to download and use under the Unsplash License.


Over 1,300,000 high quality photos, illustrations, and vector graphics. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.


Search through thousands of royalty free images on Pexels. You can use all images on Pexels for free, even for commercial use.


Create beautiful designs for yourself or with your team. Please note that if you are a premium member of Canva, you have access to not only millions of images from Canva but also images from Pixabay and Pexels.

Storyblocks Images - Unlimited Stock Photos, Vectors, & Graphics

Download all off the stock photo, vectors, and graphics you need with a Storyblocks Images membership. Join today and get access to our unlimited library.

Creative Commons

When we share, everyone wins. Another year, another incredible Creative Commons Global Summit! This year, nearly 400 Creative Commoners gathered in Lisbon, Portugal to lift their voices in support of the Commons as advocates, activists, creators, and community members dedicated to a more open and sharing world.


Please note that there are several license types presented on Flickr, including Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike and No Derivative Works. Choose the best fit for your blog needs.

The Met Open Access

On February 7, 2017, The Met made all images of public-domain works in its collection available under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). There are more than 406,000 images of artworks from The Met collection to use, share, and remix—without restriction.

Search the Collection

Read the FAQ page for more information on our Open Access program.

Public Domain Pictures - Free Stock Photos

Home for Public Domain Pictures. Free for private and commercial use.

Getty Images Free for Non-commercial Use

If you are a non-profit or have a completely non-commercial site (no google ads, etc.), Getty Images has a program wherein you can use their images free of charge.

Wikimedia Commons

If you are browsing Commons for the first time, you may want to start with Featured pictures, Quality images or Valued images.You can also see some work created by our highly skilled contributors in Meet our photographers and Meet our illustrators. You may also be interested in Picture of the Year.

New Old Stock

New Old Stock | Vintage photos from the public archives. Free of known copyright restrictions. Recapturing History.


Morguefile | Free stock photos. Looking for high resolution stock photos for your illustration, comp or design needs? Search morgueFile for free reference images. Yes, they’re all completely free. whether you’re an illustrator, art director, instructor or looking to add a defining visual to a presentation.


Subtle Patterns ● Free textures for your next web project. Subtle Patterns brought to you by Toptal, free textures for your next web project. Find out more here.

Gratisography - Free High-Resolution Photos

The world’s quirkiest collection of free high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects. All completely free of copyright restrictions. New photos added every week!


GraphicBurger | Tasty design resources made with care for each pixel. Free for both personal & commercial use. Have a bite!

Best PSD Freebies

Best PSD Freebies | The top resource on the web to download high quality, free PSD design resources for your web and print projects. These Photoshop resources include icons and much more.


Public Domain Images ● Thousands of Free Downloads. Download thousands of FREE public domain images. No signup required. Largest collection of vintage graphics on the internet. Download them for free!

Get Public Domain Pictures and Images at PDPics.

Sketchapp TV

Sketchapp TV | The best free Sketch Resources, every day. | Free Sketchapp 3 Resources | Sketchapp TV offers free Sketch video tutorials and design resources like iOS and Android UIs, icons, web designs and device mockups for Sketch 3 by Bohemian Coding. Sketch 3 is super easy to learn, has a beautiful, yet simple interface which allows you to create stunning vector graphics and has a great community of designers who contribute many freebies everyday.

Sketch App Sources

Sketch App Sources is a catalog of free resources for web ui ux designers working with Sketch 3 by Bohemian Coding. All .sketch files and .svg files are editable and freely use.


PixelBuddha is happy to offer exclusive Free and Premium high quality resources for web designers and developers.


ByPeople | A growing repository with 733 bundles & 10148 resources for web ninjas (freebies, plugins, photos and snippets) updated & curated every day, so it never expires.

Free PSD Goodies and Mockups for Designers

Free PSD Goodies and Mockups for Designers | Hello everyone! We are really proud to Introduce our new font Gant, a classy and bold font that makes everything looks a bit more elegant. Another great font created by Marcelo Reis Melo, download for free or donate 2$ to support the author.


flypixel | Awesome design freebies | Hundreds of awesome web and UI design freebies. 834 design freebies and counting. Designed by everyone. Curated by @n33co.

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