How to Know if You’re Allowed to Use an Image on Your Blog

Jennifer has submitted a fabulous question this week! With all the talk around the blogosphere of plagiarism, copyrights, and images, surely some of you must be wondering how to know if you’re allowed to use an image on your blog. So today we’re going to be talking about licenses, copyrights, and legally using free images!

Do you know anything about using photos and images from online on your blog without getting in trouble about copyrights? Like which websites have the best free photos and how do I know what really is a free photo?

Hi Jennifer!

When using images on your blog, keep this in mind: when someone creates an image, they own full copyright. You don’t have any permission to use that image, unless otherwise stated. So the rule here is: if in doubt, don’t use the image. Unless the image is licensed in a certain way or you have explicit permission, you cannot use an image. It doesn’t matter if you give credit or not; you are not allowed to use the image unless you have permission.

How do you know if you have permission to use an image?

In the online world you want to look for two beautiful words: Creative Commons. There are several different variations of Creative Commons, and you should read up on the exact definitions of each license. The variations will determine whether or not you’re allowed to modify/alter the image, and whether or not you’re permitted to use the images for commercial works.

But, Creative Commons isn’t the only option. There are several other licenses out there that allow you to use images. For example, there’s the WTFPL license, which encourages licensees to “do what the fuck they want to do”. In other words, you can do whatever you want with an image. You can use it, redistribute it, modify it, and you aren’t required to credit the original author.

Look for the license!

I know it’s a bit of a hassle, but the best thing to do is find an image and then look for a license. Can’t find a license? Can’t find any text saying you’re allowed to use the image? Then don’t. But if you do find a license (i.e. LGPL), then read the terms. The image will either come with a copy of the license, or if it just says “Licensed under LGPL” then Google the license and read the terms there. Usually it’s laid out plainly enough and will tell you whether or not you’re allowed to use the image, and whether or not you need to provide credit.

Where to look for images?


There are so many ways to find free images. One way is to do a Google search, then switch to advanced settings, then at the bottom look for “Usage Rights”. You can filter search results according to usage. You can select the option that suits you and search that way.

Icon Finder

If you’re looking for icons, then I adore Icon Finder. Do your search, and if you click on an icon you will see a section on the right for “License”, and it will tell you what the image is licensed under. You should be able to click on the license to read the exact terms.


Another option is Flickr. This is very similar to Google. Search for an image, switch to “Advanced Search”, and at the bottom you can check to search for only images within Creative Commons. Then there are optional check boxes to filter it even further, to find images for commercial use or images you can modify.

What about using book covers in reviews?

Displaying a book’s cover along with your review falls under the “fair use” policy. As long as you’re not directly claiming that the book cover is yours or was made by you, you’re free to use it! This is very similar to quoting from books falling under “fair use”. You’re perfectly allowed to include quotes from books in your review, as long as they’re not too long. There isn’t an exact rule for how long your quote is allowed to be (particularly because it depends on the length of the source), but it’s best to stay under about 300 words.

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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    1. Basically, there are 6 different Creative Commons licenses, as follows:

      CC BY

      You can basically do whatever you want with the image, as long as you give credit to the original author. You can redistribute it, change it, tweak it, modify it, and use it in commercial projects. You just have to credit the original author.

      CC BY-ND

      You can use the image, redistribute the image, use it in commercial projects, but you must credit the original author and you are not permitted to change the image. So you cannot modify the actual image at all.

      CC BY-NC-SA

      You can change the image, tweak it, build upon it, and use it. BUT, you may not use the image in commercial projects, you must credit the original author, and if you use the image in a project that project must be licensed under the same terms previously mentioned.

      CC BY-SA

      You can use the image, change it, tweak it, modify it, build upon it, and use it in commercial projects. But, you must credit the original author and any projects you use the image in must be licensed under these same terms.

      CC BY-NC

      You can use, tweak, modify, and build upon the image. But, you may not use it in commercial works and you must credit the original author. But your new work doesn’t have to be licensed under the same terms. So, for example, you could change the terms so that people are not permitted to use/modify your final work that you used the image in.

      CC BY-NC-ND

      You can download the image and use the image, but you must credit the original author. Additionally, you cannot change or modify the image and you cannot use it in commercial works.

    1. Using a cover image to promote a book falls under “fair use”. Fair use means that means you don’t need permission to use the image, as long as you’re using it “fairly” (obviously there are some more specific guidelines).

      But using a book cover image in your review does fall under fair use. So does quoting from a book, as long as the quote is under a certain amount of words (I believe it’s 500 words before you violate “fair use”).

  1. Awesome post, Ashley! I always have no idea what images I can use other than book covers and other kinds of cover art or blog buttons and stuff so I just most of the time just completely avoid the idea of even saving the image and uploading it as like a helper for my post >.< Now I need to start using that Usage Rights option on Google lol. πŸ˜€

    Eileen @ ***Singing and Reading in the Rain*** recently posted: Tuney Tuesday: The Way by Ariana Grande ft. Mac Miller
  2. Hi Ashley

    Thanks, for this info. I didnt know about the Google option and the icon searcher so this is very handy. I have used the Flickr option but find it unclear exactly how they want me to attribute it. However, I’ll take that up with Flickr!

  3. I didn’t know about the Google option, so thanks for the tip! I’ve always wondered how this applies to gifs – I never seem to be able to find the gifs’ creator, just the Tumblr that’s hosting it. And because gifs are generally of popular film/media, do they fall under fair use?

    Kelly recently posted: WoW: The 100
    1. GIFs are kind of uncharted waters because there’s not really any precedent. There’s a pretty good article about it here: What journalists need to know about animated GIFs β€” really.

      Basically the general take is that there is some risk with creating GIFs. It’s likely that the GIF would fall under fair use, but we don’t have any court citing to prove that. But ultimately, it’s highly unlikely that a company would sue for this, and even if they did, there’s a pretty good chance that it would fall under Fair Use anyway.

      As for using a GIF someone else created, this is not a legal response by any means, but when someone creates and uploads a GIF it’s usually with the knowledge that the GIF will be shared and redistributed. And since GIFs are redistributed hundreds/thousands/millions of times over, it can become almost impossible to find the original creator. So not crediting the creator is usually okay, if you really can’t find who they are.

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