6 Places To Find Public Domain Images For Your Books And Blogs

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by Mercedes Tabano II

If you’ve been using images for any length of time, you’re probably already familiar with what a creative commons license is. These licenses are good, but mildly restrictive. However, there’s something better than a creative commons license and that’s the public domain license.

Public domain images can be used for any purpose, including commercial, because their copyright has either run out or it was never copyrighted in the first place. With public domain images, you can modify, combine with other images and even use them as a logo for your book all without requiring attribution or compensation of any kind. If you turn the image into something new (by combining it with other images or altering it significantly enough), you can even get a new copyright on your altered image. So where do you find these images? Glad you asked.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons is brought to you by the people who brought you Wikipedia. ‘The Commons,’ as it is often called, is a repository for images. Wikimedia Commons images have a variety of mixed licenses, but the one you want is called the ‘public domain license’.

This license looks like a copyright symbol with the ‘No’ sign through it. This means the image has no copyright. Wikimedia Commons is a treasure trove of paintings from past eras. Paintings from Waterhouse, Rembrandt, Goya, and thousands of others, not to mention hundreds of etchings and illustrations that can all be found on Wikimedia Commons. And since they are so old, they are all out of copyright.

There’s no worrying about licenses on Pixabay, as everything is public domain. Pixaby is a site made up of photographs from around the world. The photographers of these images were kind enough to place them into the public domain for anyone to use. You can find anything on Pixabay from close-ups of food, to people in various poses, beautiful landscapes and animals.

Sometimes the best place to find an image for a book is from another book. That’s why archive.org can help. Archive.org’s mission is to try to archive the entire world. Because of this, they have thousands of books published prior to 1921. 1921 is the date that copyrights went into effect. Anything published prior to 1921 is no longer in copyright.

It’s important to understand that archive.org has a variety of mixed licenses, just like Wikimedia Commons. On archive.org, the words you’re looking for are “Public Domain,” “Out of Copyright,” “Not in Copyright,” or “Public Domain Mark.”

Government Websites
In America, the government is not allowed to copyright its own work. Therefore, any American can use it. Popular sites for government images include NASA, the FDA, the National Park Service, and the DOT. Many government-run museums also have images in the public domain. Of course, you should always make sure the image you’re looking at actually was created by the government. Sometimes, they license images for use in their materials, and that’s something different altogether.

The British Library
Recently, the British Library released over 5 million black and white illustrations into the public domain. These were scanned in from older books and cover a wide variety of topics. You can browse their photo stream on Flickr and use the images for whatever you choose. The only downside of using the British Library is that these images are tagged by the books they were in, not the topic of the image.

The Digital Comic Museum
The Digital Comic Museum seeks to preserve the banned comics of the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s. To achieve that goal, they have scanned in hundreds of copyright-free comics from around the world. While the images need a little work to be usable in a book, you can find some of the most vibrantly colored, beautifully illustrated images here.

Finding images for your books and to promote your books doesn’t need to be a chore when you know where to look. While you could spend hours on search engines trying to find the right phrase and hoping something good comes up, there’s no need. Knowing which sites to check first can shave hours off your image search and give you a much more flexible and stunning final product.

Mercedes Tabano II is a freelance writer, author, consultant, and publisher. She currently lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You can learn more about Mercedes at her website or on her Amazon Author Central page.

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17 thoughts on “6 Places To Find Public Domain Images For Your Books And Blogs”

  1. Although copyright has expired for old work, one shouldn’t assume that a work was never copyrighted simply because it doesn’t display a copyright mark. All modern work is automatically copyrighted upon creation. The mark serves as an assertion of copyright ownership, but it’s absence does not revoke copyright.

  2. Mercedes – thank you — hits the spot — i write a blog (like most of us) and have been hearing terrifying things about indies being sued for using copyrighted images…yikes…so this is timely and great info.

  3. Great info. I’d never heard of a couple of those.

    And I’ll second your warning about government images. In theory, they should be public domain, but they aren’t always. So, definitely check. If the government contractt out, it may not be publuc domain.

  4. Mercedes, thanks for the great explanation of pubic domain license. I use a few of the sites you mention. Can’t wait to try some of the new ones (new to me!).

  5. Great list of resources! 2 things I would like to mention. 1) You misspelled Pixabay as “Pixaby” in your H2 header. 2) There are 2 great resources that you missed. Viintage.com and PublicDomainArchive.com. Keep up the good work!

  6. Great post. I prefer to use my own pictures, but there are several images I’ve been looking for that I just can’t photograph myself.

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