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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.

 

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, 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.

 

Question?

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

, April 23, 2012  

Comments

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Simon  10 days ago
Yes, you can.
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anforsy  11 days ago
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?
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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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angiecat17  06/21/2014
So let me get this straight. I could use any of the public domain images with affiliate links on my website in the same page or post as long as there's no person, organization, company, or brand on the image?
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Simon  06/19/2014
Hi angidahl, thanks for asking :-) Image credits are completely voluntary - we and our image authors appreciate credits if you choose to give them, but no problem if you don't.

There are a few images on Pixabay with logos/usernames on them, but we really frown upon that - and in most cases we even reject such images. That's because those pictures "appear" to be copyrighted, but they are really not.

And of course, we're happy for any external recommendation of Pixabay - so "big thanks" if you choose to mention Pixabay on your own site :-)
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angidahl  06/19/2014
Hi Simon. Brand new to pixabay... thank you for such a great site, so glad I found it. I've read through the questions and guidelines here, so, not asking for legal advice... more about "best practice"... I am a new business owner. I plan to use images for social media and blog on my website. I read where attribution (listing photographers name) is not "required", and neither is listing the source, pixabay. So I don't "have to", but is it good practice to list it? I noticed someone on this site who put his company name, as well as the photographer name on the images. Good practice?? Also, there is a section on my site where I mention/and thank a photographer and a graphic designer, I could add pixabay in the credits section if you like. Yes?? Again, thank you for creating this beautiful site!!! Best to you...
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Simon  05/28/2014
@2608a: As explained above: all image authors on Pixabay have waived their copyrights. So, yes, the images may be used freely. Yet, take care about model- and/or property releases - also as explained in detail above.
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2608a  05/28/2014
Hello. I'm Sujin-Kim. Actually, I want to use Pixabay's photos in our university's (it's the Kangwon University in Korea) textbook that is scheduled for publication next semester. However, I worried about whether there is a copyright. Can we use your photos freely or is there a copyright? We need your assurance on this issue as soon as possible. Thank you in advance.
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Simon  03/04/2014
No problem :-) And yes, you may use/modify such patterns in any way you like - no restrictions apply.
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thefreedomofstyle  03/04/2014
I just have one more question - so sorry! What about abstract patterns - can I use or modify them? Thanks so much. Just want to do the right thing :) Cheers.
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