5 Kinds of Image Copyrights That You Need To Know About

The internet is a scary place, full of puzzles and shadowy individuals.

The internet is full of images. It has been, ever since one scientist realized he could use it to send scant pictures of Lieutenant Uhura to another scientist.

Images come in various flavors of Copyright protection. As a Graphic Designer, I learned about these in school. Before you use an image, know how it’s protected, because that will determine if you can legally use.

Public Domain

Everybody’s favorite. There is no copyright on this. It belongs to the public, which means you. No one owns it, no one ever will. Never requires attribution, this is the most flexible kind of image by far.

You can download this image, put it on your site, let other people download it, print it out, invert it, stamp it on a T-shirt then sell it.

Cats Eyes Closeup

Public Domain cat.



An image may have no copyrights but still belong to someone. In that case, it is required that you provide appropriate attribution in most cases. You need to say who took the image. You can’t say you took the image, nor does it belong to you. You may need to pay for this image.


Ah, Royalty-Free. Quick to fool to the easily deceived by the word “free” in its name, these images are anything but free, usually costing a good amount of money.

Images like these tend to be well protected by copyrights. When you purchase a royalty-free image, you generally purchase a license to use it a limited number of times or in a limited number of ways. For example, you may purchase an image that you can use on 5 Websites only, not in print, without paying royalties.

These images are important because paying royalties is complicated stuff. Unless you are an agency with a publishing staff, you will find it difficult keeping up. For most people, premium, royalty-free images can provide more than enough.

Single red gift box with silver ribbon on white background. - stock photo

As you can see, Shutterstock is quick to protect its intellectual property with potent Watermarks. In order to use this image legally, you will need to purchase it.



This kind of image is protected by all the above protection, plus you have to pay royalties. Royalties are a percentage of any money you make while using an image. For example, if you make a poster for a movie and prominently use one picture as the background, its artist may ask for a 10% royalty.

These images are covetously guarded, but other than the royalty, they are similar to royalty-free images.


Never use an image if you do not have the rights to use it! It is dishonest. When in doubt, grab some public domain clipart – you can’t go wrong.

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