Public domain images are extremely useful for artists, bloggers, advertisers and anyone else who wants images that are free to use. When an image is in the public domain, there is no copyright, and anyone may use the image for any purpose, including changing the image or using it commercially. Here are a few ways to find public domain images:
Websites for public domain images
These websites make public domain images available:
- 1 Million Free Pictures
- Public Domain Photos
- Wikipedia’s master list of public domain image resources
U.S. federal government
Works of the United States government cannot be copyrighted and are automatically public domain. This includes works prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person’s official duties. Note that this does not mean that every image on a U.S. government website is public domain. If the work was prepared by an independent contractor, then the copyright may be owned by the independent contractor or by the U.S. government. In addition, images on a U.S. government website may be owned by a third party and appear on the website with the permission of the copyright owner. Also, even though works of the U.S. government are public domain, you may not use a U.S. government seal, logo or uniform in a way that implies endorsement by the U.S. government. It’s also important to note that photographs of products or people may be subject to publicity or privacy rights, which are separate from copyright. A good way to find U.S. government works is by using the Flickr search referenced below. NASA image galleries are a noteworthy source of breathtaking public domain photographs.
Flickr hosts over a million public domain images. You can filter by “no known copyright restrictions” when searching for photos on the site. You can also choose to search for U.S. government works, or to search by Creative Commons license, including specifying whether commercial use and/or modifications are allowed.
Google image search
Google Images is worth using because it is such a powerful search engine. Under Search Tools, it is possible to filter by Usage Rights, but there is no option for public domain. However, you may choose “Labeled for reuse with modification” or a similar filter, which will include some public domain images and some that are licensed with certain restrictions, such as an attribution requirement.
Wikimedia Commons hosts over 28 million “freely usable” images. These are not all public domain. Many are licensed through Creative Commons. Some require attribution or have other restrictions.
The British Library has over one million public domain images available on its Flickr page. The New York Public Library’s Digital Collections has over 190,000 public domain images. The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress is an excellent source of Americana photographs, many of which are listed as having no known restrictions on publication. Public.Resource.Org has a Flickr page containing 23,000 images, including many from the Smithsonian Institution, most of which are in the public domain.