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Public Domain Images - What is allowed and what is not?

Public domain images are considered to be free of copyrights. Consequently, such images may be used freely for any application. But that is not true. Find out why in this article.

All images on Pixabay are released into the Public Domain under Creative Commons CC0. Therefore, the images can be modified and may be used freely for any application.



  • Identifiable people may not appear in a bad light or in a way that they may find offensive, unless they give their consent.
  • Do not suggest endorsement of products, services, etc. by depicted people or organizations. For example: do not use an image of NASA and place it adjacent to your own product in a way that suggests NASA would recommend the product.

In addition to these common sense regulations, there is more to know:


Model- and Property Release

Imagine: would you like to see your face in a TV spot without being asked for permission? No?! Therefore, identifiable people must give their consent for public usage of their images. This is meant by the term "Model Release".

Warning exclamation markThe same goes for private property: Would you like to see your private home displayed for example on an advertising column without prior notice? Nope? That's the reason for the so-called "Property Release". The object owner must give permission to use pictures of his/her belongings. But the Property Release also covers special cases, where designs or seemingly public buildings are protected. Examples are designs of new notebooks or mobile phones, as well as the Chrysler Building in New York or the London Eye. If you'd like to use pictures of that, the creators/owners must be asked for permission. Getty Images offers a large and highly useful database for looking up intellectual property release requirements: http://wiki.gettyimages.com/

However, there is a difference between editorial and commercial use. Model- and Property Releases are particularly important for commercial applications. If you are i.e. showing an image on your blog, it is non-commercial, editorial usage. In general, no release is required for such applications. Commercial use is loosely defined as all sorts of businesses, where you are actually selling something, or if you use images for advertising purposes. Take particularly care, when it comes to huge quantities, e.g. if you were to create an advertisement in a famous magazine or if you were to design a new iPhone cover.

Conclusion: It all may seem terribly complicated or risky, but actually, it isn't. Simply put yourself in the position of a depicted person or in the position of an owner or designer, respectively: Would you approve of the intended application without being asked? That is the question you should always ask yourself before using a public domain image without release.


So what is public domain anyway, if I still have to ask for permission?

Green check markUnderstand "public domain" as the permission to freely use an image without asking permission from the photographer or the illustrator. Thus, the creator of the work will not sue you for violating his/her copyrights. The creator, however, is not responsible for the content of the picture. It is your responsibility to make sure, displaying the image does not violate any other law. That is the essence of public domain images.



Before asking questions in the comments of this post, please read our FAQ first!

, April 23, 2012  


chutinwai  2 days ago
Thank you Simon, the info is very useful.
Simon  2 days ago
For some there's a link given in the sidebar under "Release information". You can find a model release at the external site then. But that's rather rare. We do ask lots of our uploaders if people are okay with that, but we can't guarantee it. So for commercial use, it's better to ask the uploader via private message. Just to be safe ... especially if it's hard to remove in case of a request to "unpublish" such an image.
chutinwai  2 days ago
Hello, I love this website. I think this is the best website that I can find public domain images so far. I would like to use pictures with identifiable people in my publication (an art program for primary schools), I wonder if I need to ask for permission for each of the image? Thank you for your time.
Simon  27 days ago
If the image author is also the owner of the pet, then you may use the image freely anywhere without property release. That's a condition that comes with our terms of use. Otherwise, it depends on the country where the image is going to be used in. E.g. for Germany, a Property Release is never required for animals.
blairBFF  27 days ago
I am a little confused about whether I need a Property Release from authors of pet photos on Pixabay. I understand the authors agreed to the CC license, but I am unclear as to the need for their permission to publish their photos since pets are considered property. Please clarify. Thank you.
Simon  27 days ago
For obtaining copyrights, the image must be modified until the thresholf of originality is reached: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshold_of_originality It's hard to put this in a few words ... I think it's best if you read the given Wikipedia article on the topic.
vzings  27 days ago
Great site!...Reading the comments below I wanted to understand if we modify a Pixabay image (and then use it in our design being sold online or as printed product or provide user the ability to select the modified image for use in our design), then is the image now a Public Domain Image or the person/organization modifying the image would have the copyright to the image?
Simon  07/21/2014
Yes, you can.
anforsy  07/21/2014
I understand we can copy, modify, distribute and use the images, even for commercial purposes. Still not clear about after modifying, can we sell the image in an online store?
Simon  06/22/2014
@angiecat17: Please read the post above *again* - particularly the section about "private property". But usually, you can use all images - exceptions are very rare.
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