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 - also commercially and in printed format.

 

Exceptions

  • 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: 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.

 

Questions: Before asking in the comments of this post, please read our FAQ first! We won't reply to questions that are already answered there or in this post.

Comments

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ubuntug08   16 days ago
Thanks for the clarifications!
PixLord   1 month ago
That depends on the country where you're going to use the image and where it was taken. The law can be quite different concerning model and property rights. Personally, I wouldn't worry about it with such very old photos. But if you want to be 100% sure, you'll probably have to dig into this ...
agoa   1 month ago
I am a digital artist. I wish to use a vintage photo from your site. It features some young men circa 20s-30s in an art piece that I am creating . The people in the photograph are obviously no longer around - The piece is titled "Public Domain" Do you foresee any potential infringement of rights here? BTW, other than texture & saturation, the photo has not been altered - albeit, some of the subjects in the photo are somewhat visible.
PixLord   1 month ago
Users often make mistakes when it comes to attribution, which makes this a source of legal issues. Therefore, attribution is voluntary for all Pixabay images.
evertonrenaud   1 month ago
I would like edit the atribution form of my imagens. Is it possible?
PixLord   1 month ago
No problem :)
Sixstringplayer   2 months ago
I would like to use images on my youtube channel with music. I am a youtube partner. Can I use images for my channel?
LBlackburn   2 months ago
I also ask this question in the forum, sorry if I am doing anything wrong. I am new to the site and new to the concept of copy righted images. I am opening a business with the word vendetta in the name. I had intended to use a version of the mask associated with the movie V for Vendetta, until someone suggested it may be copy righted. However I see a mask on your site that says it can be used for commercial purposes. My business is in no way associated with the movie and I do not want to get into any trouble, however the mask is perfect for what I want to do. Can you give me any advice? Is it legal to use the image you have on here under those circumstances? Reply Edit topic
Simon   2 months ago
If the uploaders allows private messages, you'll find a "Message" button in his/her profile on Pixabay. Usually we already offer the maximum resolution available, though.
ScaleMagazine   2 months ago
How can I contact the original photographer in order to acquire a picture with higher resolutions (300 or higher dpi)?
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