GRAPHIC COPYRIGHTS AND
SOURCES OF FREE ARTWORK
(Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an attorney. The legal information in this article is simply information
I have picked up in my years in journalism and as a printer. If you have serious questions,
contact your own attorney for legal representation.)
Years ago, before the advent of the internet, folks could find a lot of copyright-free artwork and graphics. Back then you had to actually file with the Copyright Office to copyright your work and folks just didn’t bother to do that very often. At the same time there was flagrant misuse of copyrighted material.
Even up until a few years ago artists would just post their graphics on a web site and not worry about who copied the .jpeg file and use it as their own because the artist hadn’t bothered to file a copyright notice.
Nowdays, everyone understands the second they “create” something it’s “copyrighted”. (Although if you are going to sue someone for using your graphic, you have to actually file with the Copyright Office first). Then there are a lot of sites where folks put their drawings, paintings, photographs, etc. who then sell the “rights” to those pieces for a few bucks and usually put some sort of a watermark in the center of the photo that is difficult to remove if you wanted to steal and use it.
Search engines are so good now, it’s pretty easy for the artist/creator to chase down folks who use their artwork without permission.
Still, be advised, if you use someone’s creation without permission you are breaking the copyright law. The only exceptions are if the artwork is on a site that specifically says that ALL of the artwork on the site is “in the public domain” of if you purchase a CD that contains graphics that have been specifically created to be sold on that CD. Of course, if YOU create the graphic then you can do with it what you wish. (But, be careful, someone else probably will steal it.)
There IS some confusion on “But if I modify the original graphic, isn’t it mine now?” Well, yes and no.
For a “yes, now it’s MY graphic” statement, here’s the skinny:
You find a copyrighted graphic online -- say a cute drawing of a kid bouncing a basketball, you cut out the basketball, replaced it with your own baseball, changed the kid from a girl to a boy and changed the arm from “bouncing a basketball” to “pitching a baseball”, and finally changed the background from a basketball court to a baseball infield you probably would have destroyed the copyright – but, you would have created an ENTIRELY NEW GRAPHIC. Just changing the color of the kid’s clothing and the hair from black to red and flipping the graphic horizontally wouldn’t remove the copyright. Moral, you really can’t remove a copyright and have it essentially remain a graphic of a kid bouncing a basketball.
WHERE TO FIND NON-COPYRIGHT ARTWORK
Before we get into this a couple of words of warning. You will find places that boast “royalty free” artwork and photos. “Royalty Free” does NOT mean the art is free! It means you pay a fee which gives you the right to one, or all artwork on that site for a limited period of time. I.E. It’s copyrighted and you pay the fee once and can use the artwork over and over without paying additional “royalties”.
To use a link below, copy and paste it into your favorite browser.
Even the older versions of MS Office have a limited supply of small graphics. Open a new word processing document, go to “insert” and select “picture”. There you will find some artwork built into the application or you can hunt for artwork on your own hard drive or go online to MS where additional free graphics can be found.
Microsoft’s Home Pages.
MS has a free search engine that’s not bad in locating stuff. Be careful for some of the stuff IS copyrighted and is for sale, not free.
The popular free alternative to MS Office/Word also has an “Insert” and “Picture” heading, but has no embedded artwork nor has automatic access to the internet as does MS Office. You can use the link for “office.microsoft” above.
Hasslefree Clip Art.
Here’s a web site where you can begin your own searches for artwork. “Hasslefree” has a bunch of “free clipart” sites listed. Do be careful however, since many of them offer a few free pieces, but want you to sign up for “royalty free” rights for a fee (See my comment above under “Royalty Free”.
One thing I do frequently is run a Google search. First, click on the “Images” search box at the top of Google. Let’s say I want to find a photo of a palm tree shaded lagoon in the south pacific. I’ll enter “Lagoon, Pacific” and use the advanced search feature and include under “not” the word “Royalty”. Reason being those that are being sold frequently use the words “royalty free”.
Art Explosion 300000
This is NOT free but I have to mention it. Nova has published a 14-disc CD collection of all kinds of graphics, artwork, dingbats and even some photos. You purchase the collection and you can use anything in it forever. I own a copy and occasionally use it. You can even buy it used on Google. Click the following link and then search on the site for “Art Explosion 300000”.
This site has some of the best copyright free images I have found and is probably my favorite. The only note is that users have to check each image individually because some of the people that upload the photos ask for a link to the edited image or credit
Devianart stock images.
Just like on stock xchng, the artists who upload stock photos all have their own guidelines as to crediting, linking, or using their stock off site.
Flickr has a huge range of images that are safe to use under the creative commons licensing law, but it has different categories with different rules that users have to be aware of.
Here are the links to a couple of articles online that list a bunch of other sites which I have not personally used but may be worth mentioning: