The Legal Use of Images

What Images Can You Legally Use?

It’s an easy task. You are creating your witty, informative blog for your website and you google images of furry woodchucks. When google returns the over 86,000 images, you’re only left with the decision on which woodchuck is the cutest (as if that’s possible…). But what you do with that image next can make all the difference.

Utilizing images legally is a bit more involved than most people might think. Just because you can copy and paste that image, doesn’t mean it’s all yours. So how do you know exactly what you can use legally? There are a few things to consider to ensure that your mug shot isn’t the only picture you end up with.


The first step is easy. If you designed the graphic based on your own ideas, or you captured the photo yourself, the image is yours to use as you see fit! That’s the easy one.

If you don’t own the creation, there are a few other situations when you won’t need to seek out permission:

If the image is part of the public domain (expired copyrights, federal government works, non-recorded work, etc.).

If the owner has stated that the image is available for free and clear use.

Some images that poses a Creative Commons license which basically gives the owners the ability to release their photos under the usage restrictions they dictate.

If you purchase the license for stock photos, you can use the photo in any way directed by the licensing agreement.


So, that all sounds great and easy to follow, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a couple of tangible tools to find images? Of course, Woodchuck can help with that!

One of the easiest ways to ensure you have the copyright to utilize specific images is to employ a stock art service. There are numerous sites where you can obtain stock imagery for free. HubSpot has a great list of 20 free stock photo sites that you can try. Of course, many offer upgrades to premium services, but for general use, the free services are very sufficient.

There are also numerous subscription sites that offer stunning imagery and video. These sites often provide greater range of use and formats. Some of popular options are GettyImages, iStock, Shutterstock,123rf, and Death to Stock. As designers, a payment-based site is the option that works best for our company when projects require imagery we don’t create ourselves. Even with paid memberships, there are guidelines that have to be followed and it is the user’s responsibility to adhere to them.

Google can be a great tool to use to find an image to use legally, but not just through that generic search for adorable woodchucks. First, search your image topic. When the results are returned, select Tools>Usage Rights. This is a way to filter the images that best fit your purpose and then you readily know your legal responsibility.

The moral of the story is, enter at your own risk! We aren’t lawyers, and we don’t even play them on TV, but we would hate to see you end up in any legal trouble. Always err on the side of caution! It is more time-consuming, but putting in the effort to learn the best sources for obtaining images legally should keep you safe. Besides, there are so many other more exciting ways you can get into trouble! (However, neither Woodchuck nor its employees usually condone these ways…)


The incredible thing about the internet is that we can work anywhere! Woodchuck Arts is geo-located in Newark, Ohio, Caledonia, MI and Toledo, OH. We serve clients from Seattle, Washington, to Washington D.C.

Email Heather at or call 724-281-0559
Email Erin at or call 616-528-2747

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