Google images anyone?

By Nov.16, 2010

Who doesn’t like to see and/or take photos? I think photographs are a great way of illustrating ideas. It is also an effective way of recording cultural artefacts and sharing stuff in a visual way. Although not everyone is or has to be a talented photographer, most people do appreciate a good photo. Many even like to display the pictures they take. They like to showcase their production and being recognised for it. It is also without doubt that many people (would) also love to use the pictures they see in someone else’s website. It is there and then that the dilemma starts.

Compositing The Creative Commons

Courtesy of qthomasbower (Flickr ID), "Compositing The Creative Commons", Link: License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Using photos on one’s website or blog is quite common these days. It gives it a new look and feel; it portraits our ideas in a more visual way. Someone, sometime, somewhere said that a picture can tell a 1000 words, and that is probably true. Attaching a picture to a text does enrich our narrative. Nevertheless, there are copyright rules and guidelines we need to observe when using pictures online. This takes me to the title of this post.

Google images!?

What are they and where are you getting them from? – that’s usually my question. I am using this expression – ‘google images’ – because it is a common topic when discussion online use of images.

Below is an imaginary dialog which captures some of the main issues I have been dealing with when it comes to use images online…

What about google images, can I use them?

To be frank, I had no idea what google images were… not until I started talking to people about online copyright. It turns out that “they are” the images people retrieve using the image search facility in google. Well, these images aren’t really google’s! They are just being indexed by google based on your search. The images belong to the sites they have been retrieved from… provided people have complied with the copyright regulations, that is!

So does this mean I cannot use images I find online? They are so nice and they would portrait my text perfectly. I must have them!

Well, if they are copyrighted you should not. You see, it’s like going to a museum and bring something from there that doesn’t belong to you. Just because you like it, it doesn’t mean you can have it. They will belong to someone. What you can do, however, is to get in touch with the owner and ask them if they would mind you using them. In such case you should always remind them that you will give them full credit for their work and license it appropriately.

What if the photographers (the owners of the photo I want) don’t answer my request to use their photography? I am not even going to use it with any commercial intent?!

My gut feeling tells me if they don’t answer you shouldn’t use them. *But* you to you can look at other venues where you can get other pictures from (see below). Alternatively, you can start taking your own pictures! You will not have any copyright issues with those ones.

But if there is not a copyright stamp © on the photo, doesn’t it mean it is free to use?

Not at all! Any picture, text or artefact that is submitted online becomes copyrighted automatically by its publisher, provided that it is original content and they own it! Hence, the need to always seek permission to use any content which has been submitted online.

So what are the alternatives? If I need a picture to illustrate my idea, what should I do?

There are increasingly more options available on the web when it comes to use pictures other people have taken. There are quite of few sites aggregating photography and other sorts of digital content under specific licenses that allow their further use. They are licensed under Creative Commons Licenses.

What is Creative Commons (CC)?

It is a non-profit cooperation which aims to expand the amount of original work online using copyright licenses which make it possible for people to share, use and remix that content in a legal way. The organization has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licenses. These licenses will give authors and users specific rights and duties regarding the work being copyrighted, i.e., It gives the author the opportunity to stipulate the kind of freedom and usability they wish to grant their artifacts and audience when using their own work creations. Depending on the license chosen, it also gives users the possibility to re-use their work as long as the terms and conditions set forward by the author are observed. To learn more about the type of licenses people link here.

Where can I find creative commons photographs?

There are quite a few sites where people submit their photos under those licenses. is probably the most used one. To search for photos copyrighted under creative commons activate the advanced search option and check the ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’ at the bottom of the page. Click on the selected image for it to open in full screen. On the right hand side of each picture you will see the type of licence its authour has attributed to it.

Other good site to look at is the Wikicommons resource (it features images that are either out of copyright or licenses under a free-use license – it means you are use, re-use and remix it)

Also browse through the CC image directory put together by the Creative Commons folks.

Just one last question: Do I need to reference the authors if pictures have been licensed under creative commons or free-use (in the case of wikicommons)?

Absolutely, just because people are allowing you to use them, it doesn’t mean you should stop acknowledging them for their work. Reference all their work, all the time.

How do I reference pictures online?

This is still a tricky question to answer. I don’t think there is a still fixed rule about how and where to place the credit. I personally like to add it underneath a picture.

I would start with the name of the author or ID (Flickr ID, for instance), title of the picture, if there’s one, the URL for the picture, and the license, if it is not explicit on the source link

In a nutshell:

Although the use of copyrighted images is a commonplace in the blogsphere, it does not mean it is right, and it is my goal here to raise the awareness that we should *not* replicate this kind of practice. It is also important to bring to attention that there are other alternatives. There are quite a few venues where we can get photos from without breaking the copyright. Always look for creative common licenses or work licensed for free-use. Always remember to acknowledge the authors and observe the conditions stipulated by the licenses they chose to use. More about the different licenses later.

Meanwhile, I would like to hear from you and your experiences in using digital artefacts online.


9 thoughts on “Google images anyone?

  1. Nick Noakes

    9 years ago  

    Look at the way Alan Levine ( @cogdog ) does it in his blog at

    For his own he uses Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. I see a lot with the non-commercial use CC license. It matters whether the country you are in has agreed CC licenses or not with creative commons – there is a process for getting this at the country level, which I was on the periphery of for Hong Kong with people at my university (HKUST) and Hong Kong University involved with staff from CC.

    For cc on flikcr try the flickrcc search site at

  2. 9 years ago  

    Hi there,
    I have some experience helping people source images online. My favourite tool for searching for images is You can search Creative Commons licensed image specifically by tag or description. Compfight is great because it returns lots of results and a single click will take you to the Flickr page where the image resides.

    Once you have found the image you want to use, I suggest using the tool – ImageCodr will give you HTML that you can use to get the image with the Creative Commons logo bundled together as one. It also creates the link back to the source photo on Flickr.

    If you are sourcing images for Powerpoint or offline work, I find it works to simply select the image and license which ImageCodr creates for you and copy and paste it where you want to have it used. Sometime this requires a bit of tweaking to make it look right.

    I think I will create a blog post to articulate this more clearly with photos. Will let you know!

  3. 9 years ago  

    Thanks Gareth,

    You raise very pertinent questions here.
    I will try to write a new post soon on how this can be done.
    But in short, Creative commons licenses allows it to be reused by third parties. the trick is to find out if the license under which a photo is licensed can be remixed (changed), used for commercial purposes, etc. Each CC licenses will offer different options. Nonetheless, all of them require we credit its author. I don’t think there is still a standard way on how to credit them, but I will offer some examples. That’s the post to follow. Very soon, I hope.

  4. 9 years ago  

    Hi Cris,

    As you are aware, I am a serial offender when it comes to photography referencing and if the rope was still in use I probably would have swung for this months ago.

    To be frank, I find the search for photo’s a bit of a chore after I have written a post and often tend not to bother even looking now. But when I do, I still can’t make sense of the language. CC is all well and good, but there are quite a few options and all I want to know is “Can I use it?”, and “How do I reference it?”

    Thanks for taking the time to write the post and sharing this information with us. I will look forward to reading the follow up post and kicking my offending behaviour in to touch.


Leave a Reply