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

Sign in to leave a comment.
PixLord   11 days ago
You can do that. Others can do the same. So the same part *might* appear in another company's logo, too.
shinnerssc   11 days ago
Can I use an image as part of a logo for a small business?
Daluci   11 days ago
Ok thanks Simon. When i post the pics it will be obvious that they are photoshopped. Only if its my own pic i will add thats its my own photogaphy.
Simon   11 days ago
You can watermark the images, but it shouldn't look as if you were the image author of the original works.
Daluci   11 days ago
I started my own photoshop business and looking for pics to edit. Like cars, animals, nature,... Can i use the pics from this site to edit and put my watermark on it? I want to show these pics as an example so people see what kind of things i can do. And the watermark so people dont steal it and claim it their work.
Simon   25 days ago
The post above explains that in detail. You can do it as long as the depicted content itself is not protected (e.g. brands, logos, identifiable persons).
laimutisg   26 days ago
We print postcards for Postcrossing. And sell them for almost the cost of printing. Can we use pixabay photos in our project? Do we have to contact the author and get his permission? We print the author's name at the end of a postcard. How should it indicate? Username and pixabay.com?
PixLord   1 month ago
In most cases, it's no problem. But this cannot be generalized. If - for example - that happens to be the door of a casino in Las Vegas, it might be problematic, since these buildings are protected. So, it really depends on the building and the country where the image is going to be used in commercially. We never had an issue with that, but we just cannot give a guarantee, either. You can try contacting the image author via the "Message" button on his/her profile.
mshedrick17   1 month ago
I'm sorry, I'm new to this whole thing, and I just want to make sure I'm doing it the right way. I'm a real estate agent building my website, and wanted to use a picture of a door that I found here on my homepage. Do I need to ask the property owner for permission to use this (it's just a picture of the door slightly open, the interior of the home isn't shown), and if so, how would I go about doing so?
PixLord   1 month ago
No problem as long as the depicted content itself is not protected - as described above.
+101 more