Blogging secrets revealed: How to find images for your blog without getting sued


For my Design 101 session at FitBloggin’ last month I explained how to find images for your blog posts without stealing. This is important to prevent your ass from being sued for copyright infringement. Granted, most people who steal images don’t get sued, but it’s always a possibility. I’d recommend that you respect copyright laws unless you rent server space in Sweden or like to live life on the edge in a sort of dorky way. Sure, stealing is convenient, free and easy, but finding images that are legal to use can be convenient, free and easy too.

I like to include images in my posts because they draw readers in and break up otherwise intimidating blocks of text in really long posts. The best place to find images is on Flickr, a popular file sharing service that allows people to post their photos under Creative Commons licenses. According to the Creative Commons site:

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

Uh, that didn’t make sense to me either, and I actually know what they do. In human speak, Creative Commons allows people to license their creative work with less restrictions than standard copyright law, which typically says HANDS OFF, YOU PIXEL-MONGER! There are different licenses which grant varying levels of freedom. You can read about the different licenses here.

The great thing is that Flickr allows you to search just for images licensed for use under Creative Commons. Start by going to the Flickr advanced search page. (You can also get here by clicking on the word “Search” next to the search box on any page and then clicking on “Advanced search” near the search box in the main content area.) First, enter a search term in the search box.

Flickr search

Then scroll to the bottom of the page and check the box that says “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content.”

Creative Commons search

You’ll then get a list of image thumbnails as your search results. You can browse through these until you find something you like. Sometimes I don’t find anything on my first search and have to try again with a different search term. For instance, to find the image for this post I first searched for “secret” and “shhh” before finding something with the search term “blog.”

Once you find an image, click on it to go to the detailed page for that image. Then you can right-click on the image itself to display a menu that links to different image sizes. I usually go with the 500px width because that fits best within my blog’s layout.

Blog image

On that page I can right-click on the image and select “Save image as” to save a copy to my computer. If you can’t right-click on the image, you’ve probably searched incorrectly and found an image that is copyright restricted.

Save image

Once I’ve done that I click the back button until I get back to the image detail page. In the bottom right section of the page there is a link to “Some rights reserved.”

Some rights reserved

This links to the specific Creative Commons license for this photo. In this case it’s the “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)” license. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.

Big old license

Under the terms of this license I can share the work as long as I:

  1. Attribute it to the creator. Hey there, Lady Madonna! Attribution complete.
  2. Don’t use it for commercial purposes. So, I can’t sell prints of the image or T-shirts with the image on it.
  3. I don’t make any derivative works. That means I can’t edit the image in any way, like making the background green

This is actually one of the most restrictive licenses. Other licenses usually let you remix the work as you like.

The final step is to then post the image on my blog and include the links to the original image on Flickr and to the license under which I’m using the photo. I usually post the credit like this: Photo by Lady Madonna / by NCND 2.0 CC

So there you go! That’s how I find images for my blog without hiding out from the intellectual property police. I hope that tutorial helps you remain a law-abiding, ethically sound blogger.

Post navigation
Home: Main blog index


  1. artemis says

    There are a few gray areas, especially around what constitutes ‘non-commercial’ use and whether using an image in a post that also includes advertising on the page constitutes commercial use. There are some surveys asking people what they think ‘noncommerical use’ means, and not everyone agrees.

    There is also a less common problem: people taking images under restrictive copyright and reposting on them on their flickr account with a CC license that isn’t theirs to assign. I try to make a judgement call on whether I think the poster really did take the image or not. It’s certainly much less of a risk than taking something that is clearly under restrictive copyright and hoping they don’t complain.

  2. says

    Thanks for this tip! I’ve been wondering about this very thing. I currently play Russian Roulette with my images (or use my own) which is pretty shameful considering I am an IP paralegal. D’oh!

  3. says

    Thanks for this tutorial. And thanks for the warning. When I read your earlier post on this subject, I stopped using any images I wasn’t sure of and now only download my own pix. Which is more fun and ego-stroking anyway!

  4. says

    Have you ever tried using those “royalty-free” stock photo sites? Never could figure out how to access the photos without paying lots of money, but I know some people got the hang of it.

    Another site is Wikipedia, the Wikimedia commons part. Wikipedia has a “photo of the day” each day; they’ve got a few years’ worth of these that you can use.

  5. says

    Thank you SO much! I use images on my classroom blog (room and realized I needed to use something other than Google images after your post a couple weeks ago. But I couldn’t make heads or tails out of your Creative Commons info at that point, so just started using a restricted search on Google images — mighty slim pickings! I’ll use the info you provided in this post about Flicker when I start posting again in September!

  6. says

    @Merry – I am a member of a royalty free site and pay for the images using credits I purchase in advance. The site I use offers free ones occasionally but I have no idea how one would get them without paying – they usually have a watermark on them.

  7. Kim says

    Thank you for this info!! I blog our travels and frequently look for flags of countries we’ve been to. Using your method is much safer than hoping what I’ve done is OK.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *