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.



  • 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:

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.


Sign in to leave a comment.
lovelight4   1 day ago
Awesome! Thanks a lot!
PixLord   1 day ago
No problem at all - that's what Pixabay is for :-) You can also print it ...
lovelight4   1 day ago
If I don't use logo but just add message then it's ok? It wouldn't be a printed card, but only sent as an email.
PixLord   1 day ago
Sounds okay - just make sure not to pose accidentally as the image author by putting your logo on the image.
lovelight4   1 day ago
Hi! I have read the FAQ but just want to make sure I'm doing everything right. I need to create a Christmas card for my agency and wanted to get an illustration from this website. I would type my own message to the illustration and maybe add our logo to it. Is that ok or is that against your rules? Thanks!
PixLord   1 day ago
In case a Model Release exists, there's a "Release" link in the sidebar right above the download button. However, there are not many. This image was pulled in from an external source and the model release is found on the original site: Just as an example ...
plynch   1 day ago
You may have already answered this question but I didn't see it while looking through all the comments. I know the pictures themselves are not copyrighted but I see the information about model releases. How do we know if a photo of an "identifiable person" has a model release? Does it say this somewhere with the posted photo and I just missed it? We are an organization that works with families and young children so we like to use photos of that type but don't want to use something that the person hasn't agreed to be used. Please advise. Thank you!
theploy0   6 days ago
thanks a lot
tennexican   8 days ago
Simon, you are totally correct. Please understand that what I described in my last post was not a "legal" issue, nor did I intend for it to be taken that way. I posted it for the benefit of anyone on here who either are creating or are planning to create ebooks thru some of the online ebook publishers and or distributors...such as Smashwords. I'm not suggesting that there's anything illegal about using public domain images in ebooks. I use them myself. Just that each ebook publisher has their own requirements and some prefer that you not use public domain images at all. Intellectual rights, as you know, are another thing entirely.
Simon   8 days ago
@Coach777: You can do that. Just make sure not to accidentally "pose" as the image author. E.g. if you write your name on it, it's probably problematic. People might think you had created the image ... If you print quotes or jokes on it, no problem at all. @tennexican: That's not really a *legal* issue. It may be some regulations by certain publishers, but it doesn't break any law to use public domain images for ebooks.
+88 more