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. Attribution in appreciated, but not required.

 

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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spuzzolo   2 days ago
Hello, i writed my first book and i would liky to publish it freely online. After long long searsh, i found one image on pixabay site. All images are CC0 so i can use freely for my cover even for fommercial reason, right? Reading posts and documentation, i don't neet to ask for permission paying attention to not use recognizable subject in a "bad moon" or maybe copyrighted object in my cover. I'm reading that you don't require attribution but, in my opinion, it's politically correct to thank pixabay anyway. I would like to give right attribution to you so i will insert the link to http://www.pixabay.com on my closing credits. Thank you for your hard work !!!
Desertrose7   4 days ago
I have read through all the comments and questions and satisfied myself that it is ok to use the beautiful landscape images on this site to create photo manipulations incorporating my own photography/models and even be able to sell them in a transformed state. Sounds too good to be true :) but it seems this is the case. So thank you! Fantastic site! I am spreading the word about Pixabay wherever I can and contributing my own images also.
Simon   4 days ago
Hi babs, we have a logo on our "About us" page: http://pixabay.com/service/about/ You can use it freely :)
babs41   4 days ago
I want to credit Pixabay on my TpT store product. I have already listed the site and bought some coffee!!, but I would also like to know if you have a logo I can post on my credits page. Thank you for all that you do!
PixLord   6 days ago
Sure, they do! E.g. we have logos of Amazon, Facebook and other brands as vector graphics. The file type is not relevant.
WellWritten   6 days ago
I am looking at downloading vector graphics so assume that model and property release requirements don't apply to those?
Simon   6 days ago
Such images may be used only for editorial purposes freely. For any commercial use, an additional permit is required by the content's rights holder.
MalleeRose   6 days ago
Hi Simon, I am from a small community centre and I wanted to use the picture of the Despicable Me Minions that is available. I have been told however that they would probably be seen as being protected by pixar/disney's copyright laws. They aren't the exact minions. They look a little tiny bit different. Is there any chance I can use them on our flyers or not? We're not selling anything.. the program that we are advertising is free.
Simon   29 days ago
Hi kettmanndesigns, I think we leave that up to you. There's not really a guideline to follow. Just imagine you were the original image author. How would you see the intended application? Just try to be fair :-)
kettmanndesigns   29 days ago
If I want to edit a photo from here and sell it with various filters and PS techniques added how can I go about stating that I am NOT the author of the original image but the author/creator of the edited image. Basically I'm just looking for how I should word it to protect my design (other then watermarking the edited image). I will also contact the photographer on here for the go ahead to use their image and show them the work before it goes up for sale. Sorry for long comment just want to be safe. *you can delete my below comment**
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