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Photo Usage, Copyright Infringement and You – How Not to Be a Thieving D-bag (Part 2)

Photo of breakfast

Image courtesy of Fight the Craving

Let’s say you wanted to get your hands on some photos. Perhaps you need them for a presentation or an article or blog post you’re writing. You’ve tried to do the right thing by contacting the owner for permission but they’re not returning your emails. You don’t have any money to spend on stock photos and you’re fast running out of time.

Before you decide to sneak across the border into the moral wasteland of thieving douche bags, know that there are still options available to you. Options that can be actioned quickly. Options that do not require you to contact the owner for permission. Options that allow you to get access to photos in a legally and morally right way, all for free.

As with all free things in life though, it comes at a price.

Photo of a couple of Geisha in Japan

Image courtesy of Almost Always Ravenous

Part 1 of this two part series dealt with requesting permission from the owner of a photo. This post will explore the options of obtaining access to photos without the need for prior permission, primarily through Creative Commons licenses, though other options will be touched on as well.

Disclaimer: While this post touches on some legal matters regarding copyright, I am not a lawyer. The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice in any way.


As with Part 1, it’s important to deal with some common misconceptions that people hold regard to proper usage and copyright of photos. Feel free to check out this section in the previous post but in short, if there isn’t a license clearly stating your usage rights or you don’t have permission from the owner, then the photo is generally not available for use.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons are a standardised set of copyright licenses designed to encourage the sharing and development of creative works. These licenses are presented in easy-to-read plain English outlining what rights of usage you have as well as the conditions of use.

There are currently six different licenses available under Creative Commons. The two most common licenses that you’ll likely come across are:

Attribution-NonCommercial – This license allows you to use and edit images so long as attribution is given to the copyright holder and the photo is not used for commercial purposes. So long as you’ve met these conditions you’re free to use and modify the photo as is required, whether it’s to resize, crop, rotate, process, add text, composite, bedazzle and so on.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs – Similar rights to the previous license with the added restriction that the photo cannot be edited, altered, transformed or built upon in any way. This essentially means that the photo has to be used as-is. In the license info, it’s not clear as to whether or not resizing the photo or trimming it slightly would violate this condition but if that’s something that needs to be done, it’s best to err on the side of caution and either seek permission if this sort of thing is necessary or assume it cannot be done.

For more information on all the licenses, make sure the check out the Creative Commons License page.

Photo of sashimi

Image courtesy of Michael Shen from I’m Still Hungry

Where to Find CC Images

There are two primary means of finding Creative Commons images.

Creative Commons Image Search – There are a number of sites that provide images licensed under Creative Commons or allow you to search the Internet for them. Some examples include Flickr, 500px and Google Images. However, Creative Commons provides a convenient multimedia search CC Search which gives you the option to search 13 different sites (including Flickr & Google) for photos, videos and music licensed under Creative Commons.

Manual Search – This can be a somewhat time-consuming method for finding Creative Commons photos but it can also provide some good quality sources which may be harder to find doing a straight search via a Creative Commons search engine. For most Creative Commons sites, finding the licensing info usually only takes a matter of seconds, either by scanning the sidebar or the About page.

Manual searches can also be assisted with site lists. In the case of food photography, a good place to start would be food blog directory lists found on sites like Australian Food Blogs, Blog ChicksChocolatesuze and Grab Your Fork, though other directories or top food photography lists released periodically can be of some help too.

Each of the above methods have their pros and cons. Image search can help to find a specific image easier though the overall quality can often be rather sketchy and it can be hard to consistently find good quality images. With regards to manual search, once good quality Creative Commons licensed sites are found, consistency of quality is less of a concern though it may be difficult or time consuming to find the specific image you’re after. However, the search can be worth it given the kind of quality images you can find on blogs such as 84th&3rd, eatshowandtell, Citrus and Candy, lemonpi,  and Sweetest Kitchen just to name a few.

Photo of vegan chocolate frosted cupcakes

Image courtesy of Sweetest Kitchen (CC BY-NC 3.0)


If you look through the Creative Commons licenses you’ll notice that Attribution is a core component of all licenses. Attribution is the price you pay to obtain Creative Commons photos for free. As such, it’s important to know how to properly attribute their work.

As outlined in the Creative Commons fact-sheet on Attribution, when attributing CC works, you should:

  • Credit the creator
  • Provide the title of the work
  • Provide the URL where the work is hosted
  • Indicate the type of Creative Commons License and provide a link to the license terms
  • Keep intact any copyright notices associated with the work

Attribution isn’t just about giving credit to the owner of the photo. There’s more to it than just indicating that a photo is not yours. Attribution is also a gateway through which a photographer can build their reputation and show off their body of work. That’s where a photographer, who has put all their time, money, skills, experience and passion into that nice photo that you’re looking to use, finds value in providing the photo for free.

The above list of points may seem like a lot to bear in mind and coupled with the fact that there is no standard way to attribute someone’s work, attribution can seem somewhat daunting. However it doesn’t have to be.

Photo of apple tart slices

Here are some examples of the right way to attribute the above photo from lemonpi:

Image courtesy of lemonpi licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

Photo credit: lemonpi CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 (abbreviated format of the above license).

Simple Apple Tart” by lemonpi from Postcard from Autumn (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Some things to note regarding attribution:

Attribution should include both credit to the creator as text and a clickable link to their website. For print media, credit and a URL should be provided.

Credit should be given next to or nearby each instance a photo is used. This not only makes it clear who the owner of each photo is but you also minimise the chance of this info being lost in small print that a reader may overlook or not get to at all.

 When linking to the owner, unless specified otherwise by them, always link back to the original page from which the image came from and not just to the homepage.

A separate link is used to point to the Creative Commons licensing info relevant for that photo. This helps people who are unfamiliar with Creative Commons licenses know what rights of use they have and under what conditions.

Most photos you’ll likely come across will be without a title so this requirement can often be omitted.

Follow any instructions regarding usage and attribution if specified by the owner over and above the ones specified by the Creative Commons license, even if they seem contradictory. The owner has final say as to how their photos are to be used.

While it’s not an official requirement for attribution, it’s best practice to inform the owner that you’re using their photo and provide a link to where it’s being used out of courtesy. Not only does it help the owner know where their photos are being used but they may in turn offer to draw attention to your site.

While there are a lot of points above to consider regarding attribution, good attribution boils down to a very simple concept – how generous you are with the credit you’re giving to the original creator. If you hide credit away in small text at the end of the page, don’t provide a clickable link or assume the watermark on the image is credit enough, how much credit are you really giving back to the owner who has been generous enough to provide you with images for free? If you consider the alternatives, such as doing the work yourself, paying for stock photos or paying for a lawyer, good attribution is a very small price to pay.

Photo of a chocolate cake

Image courtesy of Citrus and Candy (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Other Options of Free Use

Aside from Creative Commons, there are three other ways in which you are able to use a photo for free without having to request prior permission:

Fair Dealing – In Australia, fair dealing allows for the use of a photo without prior consent given that they are used for one of the following purposes:

  • Research and study
  • Review and criticism
  • Reporting of news
  • Parody and satire

The term “fair use” originates from the US and while similar in that it allows for use of photos without prior permission in a limited manner, the way in which fair use is implemented and dealt with legally can differ and isn’t as clear cut as Australia’s fair dealing implementation.

If you’re looking to use images under fair dealing/fair use, make sure you’re aware of your local copyright laws as the definitions and conditions of fair dealing/fair use can vary between countries.

Public Domain – Photos in the public domain are ones without copyright protections, whether it’s due to the expiration or forfeiture of intellectual property rights. The length of time a photo is protected under copyright varies between countries. In Australia, exceptions aside, this period is generally considered to be the death of the copyright owner plus 70 years. So, unless you’re looking to photos from around The Great Depression era, your likelihood of obtaining public domain images may be rather limited.

Statement of Usage Rights – Copyright holders can make a custom declaration stating what rights a person may have to use their photos and under what conditions they can do so. This information can usually be found on a site’s About page or on a page outlining copyright or media usage.

Creative Commons is a great avenue for obtaining photos for free quickly without the hassle of waiting for the owner to give you permission. While it may seem like there’s a lot of information to take in, obtaining images through Creative Commons licenses isn’t that hard in practice. It’s just a matter of finding the right image, providing credit through good attribution and informing the owner that you’ve used their photo(s). It’s as simple as that. Given the alternatives, it’s a very small price to pay.

I hope that this guide as well as the previous one on requesting permission serves you well, showing you how not to be a thieving d-bag when using images for free and that the process of doing things in a legally and morally right way is simple and straightforward.

Thanks to Lawrence and Allan for giving permission to use their photos and for Michael, Jaimeanne, Y & Karen for allowing their images to be used without the need to do so.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Lawrence @ FightTheCraving June 4, 2013, 6:09 pm

    Great post!! I think this a topic often overlooked, glad to have been a part of it :)

    • Totally agree with Lawrence , great post! Thanks for sharing pics and info

      • Simon June 4, 2013, 10:43 pm

        You’re welcome. Hope it serves you well if you ever need it :)

    • Simon June 4, 2013, 10:42 pm

      Thanks Lawrence and thanks again for your photo. That’s a killer photo to have for your first ever post. Wish I was that good when I started :)

  • Craig Hind June 4, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Again, part 2 is spot on. All my photos are CC-BY-NC-ND without the need to ask permission first. Of course to be notified is always nice. We like to know where our photos are being used.

    If anyone wants to create a derivative work they’re probably welcome to too, but I’d like to be contacted beforehand for permission. Likewise, if it’s for commercial use my photos can be paid for and downloaded overriding the Creative Commons licence.

    • Simon June 4, 2013, 10:48 pm

      That’s a good point you raise regarding the allowance of derivatives/commercial use with permission. Creative Commons licenses just outline what you can do without asking for permission. Anything is possible so long as you ask.

  • Lizzy (Good Things) June 5, 2013, 10:05 am


  • Tina @ bitemeshowme June 5, 2013, 10:41 am

    Thanks for posting this up!

  • Simon Food Favourites June 5, 2013, 11:42 am

    Sometimes it’s just easier to pick up a camera and take a photo yourself if it’s something simple like a cup of coffee and not have to worry about all the copyright issues — plus you get to drink the coffee :-)

    • Simon June 10, 2013, 12:46 pm

      Sometimes it is though, respectfully, it’s an overly simplistic view that misses the point of this series of posts.

      As you well know, any guy with a camera can take a photo. However, if you need a good quality photo or need a particular image that can’t get yourself, whether it’s due to a lack of access, location, money, time etc. then that’s what this series seeks to address.

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