The truth is that it actually is a crime: it’s copyright infringement, and unless you have express consent to use an image that you find online, you’re in violation of the law. What’s more, if the owner of the photo you’ve stolen discovers that you’ve used it, he or she can sue, potentially costing you both the photographer’s usage fee plus any legal fees you might incur. In other words, those seemingly free images can turn out to be quite costly.
Aside from the legal issues with using photos that aren’t yours, there are moral and professional implications as well. If you’re putting yourself out there as a creative thinker and problem solver, you’re not doing yourself any favors by using work that someone else has created. Making and using your own images is best, but if that’s not feasible, you’ll want to use found images both legally and properly.
Here are six websites to help you find stock images at no charge. The copyright on all of the photos on these fall under Creative Commons, a license that can have several different iterations but basically allows you to use the photos at no cost. And, in many cases, you can modify the photos to suit your needs. These sites will help you get great photos, they’ll save you money, and they’ll keep you legal.
Not only does Pixabay have copyright-free images, but they also have graphics and HD video clips that you can use. Search by keyword or browse by category.
Landscape photography is the real strength of Unsplash’s collection. There’s some really impressive work here, and it’s all yours for free under Creative Commons. Plus, if you’ve got a great photo, you can submit it and boost your Creative Commons karma.
The images on Gratisography can lean slightly toward the bizarre (a giant teddy bear exiting a porta potty?), but if you want a free photo that will certainly catch your readers’ attention, there are lots of great choices here.
The photos on Picography are a real mixed bag, but if you take some time to browse through what’s available, you’ll probably find visualizations for just about anything.
From vintage to modern, there are a lot of beautiful and free high res images on the Public Domain Archive. The site is peppered with ads, though if you become a premium member (for $10 a month), they’re disabled, plus you can bulk download several images at once.
Hundreds of excellent photos are well organized in categories on Picjumbo. The site can be a little difficult to navigate, but if you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with some great (and free) choices.
With beautiful and free images like the ones you’ll find on these six sites, there’s really no good reason to lift pictures from Google’s image search ever again. Sure, finding the right photo on one of these sites may take a few more minutes, but you can feel better about yourself and your work knowing that you’re using photos legally.