Using Images on Blogs and Social Media (or: Pictures on the Internet Aren’t Copyrighted, Right?)

So you’ve written a blog post (or want to make a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram post). You’re proud of the writing, any external information you referenced is properly sourced, and you’re feeling good about posting it for all the world to see. But first, you want pictures to illustrate your excellent prose. Just go to Google, right? After all, if it’s on the internet, it’s free for all to use!

Copyright symbol held by a person
Copyright symbol. Public domain image from user 3dman_eu onPixabay.

Well….nope. Most pictures you find on the Web are, in fact, under copyright! It doesn’t matter if they don’t have that little © somewhere on them – they are still copyrighted the moment they are created. What does that mean for you? It means that, without the copyright holder’s permission, you can’t just take something you found on one internet site and stick it into your blog post. This is a violation of copyright, and something that could potentially get you into legal trouble.

“What about fair use?”, you cry. “My blog post is educational!” That’s great, but it’s not quite enough. It’s possible that under the principles of fair use, you would be able to use copyrighted images. Take a look at each and weigh whether you think your use falls under these fair use guidelines from the U. S. Copyright Office:

  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair use is kind of vague, so just because you think your work falls under it doesn’t mean that the copyright holder does.

Man wagging his finger in disapproval
Image by Ahd Photography on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 (

Say that you’ve determined your use of images in your blog post is not quite fair use, so you can’t actually put them in your blog post. What can you do? There are plenty of public domain (that means NOT under copyright) and Creative-Commons licensed images (that means you can use the image, without permission,  as long as you attribute the source and link to the license, and maybe a couple of other restrictions if you’re a commercial entity or want to make modifications) out there!

Man holding both hands in air on mountain
Imagine the freedom you’ll feel not worrying whether you’re violating copyright! (Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash)

Here are some websites that have these kinds of images:

You can also search by Usage Rights on the Advanced Search of Google Images.

There are so many places to get licensed and (truly) free images, there’s no need to pull copyrighted images off of random websites and possibly get yourself in trouble.

Just a note about this post: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.


U. S. Copyright Office (n. d.). Copyright in general. Retrieved from

U. S. Copyright Office (n. d.). More information on fair use. Retrieved from


Contributed by Carrie Levinson, Scholarly Communications Librarian, Midtown


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