Where we stand on copyright

All of us at Getty Images believe that copyright empowers creativity. That innovative breakthroughs happen when artists are fairly compensated for their work when it is used commercially. That's why we're leveraging digital technology to protect creators' rights while making millions of images available to everyone — at no cost — for noncommercial use.
Copyright law may not be the first thing on your mind when you are looking for the right content to tell your story. But it's important. We have plenty of resources so you can get a quick overview of the subject and start finding and using images, videos and music with confidence.

Protecting your work

As soon as you create an image it is automatically protected by copyright.  However, it’s wise to register your copyright formally and take preventive measures to protect your creations.

Getty Images works with policy makers and industry groups to uphold creatives’ rights, defend intellectual property and ensure a fair marketplace for content creators continues to flourish. Find our more in our Advocacy section.

If you work with us, register your photographs with the US Copyright Office before you submit them, even if you reside in a nation other than the United States. Once you receive your certificate, keep it for your records. Then send your registration information or copies of the certificates to copyright@gettyimages.com. The date of your copyright registration will be the date the submission is received in the US Copyright Office. It is easier for us to pursue copyright infringements in the US when copyrights are registered.


Creativity comes in many forms. You may create a work from scratch, or you may find another work so inspiring that you wish to build from it. Such work is considered a “derivative work” because it is based on the work of someone else. In that case, you will need to purchase an image license for the original work to use it as a reference and you will not be able to copyright your derivative work, because it is not entirely yours.



How copyright applies to you

When it comes to copyright, context is everything. We want you to be able to tell your story with images, and we can help you do it in a way that benefits both you and the creators of any works that you use. Whether you are a small business owner, a blogger, a teacher, professor, student or nonprofit, we can guide you to the best creative work for your situation.


Getty Images offers support for bloggers who may have limited funds for image licenses.

We support all types of bloggers, and we offer a variety of digital images to connect and engage with your audience.

When it comes to supporting nonprofits, we go out of our way to help communicate your value to society. That’s why we offer millions of free images to meet your communication needs. No matter what your creative project requires — even high-resolution images — we’ll provide a significant discount to help you manage your budget. Simply contact us at community@gettyimages.com and we’ll be happy to work with you.

Q&A: What small businesses should know about copyright

Through the use of images, you can illustrate a concept, prove a point or inspire others to make their own works. Copyright law allows for creative expression in the classroom, and understanding that law can make it easier to share your ideas.


When it comes to copyright, librarians are your secret weapons. They must stay current with all aspects of copyright as part of their job, especially as the Web transforms how content is made and shared. If you aren’t sure you can use a creative work in your classroom or in a paper, stop by your school or local library and schedule an appointment.

Whenever you use an image in the classroom or in a paper, it is best to cite the source of the image so that the creator receives credit for his or her work. If you can track down the source of the image, ask the source how the image should be cited. If you cannot find the source, follow proper citation methods for academic research.

According to Section 107 of United States copyright law, teachers and students can use copyrighted works without fear of infringement provided the works are used for any of the following purposes: “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.”

Of course, there are boundaries to fair use. For example, a professor can use a still from a movie in a classroom but cannot publish that image in a book that may make a profit for her or for her publisher. If you aren’t sure about using an image in the classroom, Section 107 of the US copyright law offers a set of guidelines known as the “four factors.” Before using an image in the classroom, consider the following, according to US copyright law:

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

Also keep in mind that, even if an image is used by somebody relying on the fair use limitation, it does not mean that any further use in another way by another person would also be regarded as fair use. Therefore, no matter where you discover an image (for example, a free-to-access site such as a search engine, a newspaper site or a password-protected site), the image will still be protected by copyright. Any reuse of that image will require permission or the purchasing of a license unless the proposed use falls within one of the few existing limitations for fair use.

In some countries outside the US, the limitation for fair use does not apply, although there may be similar, usually narrower, limitations.

Through the use of images, you can illustrate a concept, prove a point or inspire others to make their own works. Copyright law allows for creative expression in the classroom, and understanding that law can make it easier to share your ideas.

As a small business owner, you may decide to hand off design tasks to a freelancer or rely on templates. However, it’s still your responsibility to ensure that all the images have been correctly licensed, no matter who created your website or collateral. You should keep records of any images purchased on your behalf so you know the scope and expiration dates of each license. You will be liable for copyright infringement if no valid licenses exist.

Whether you are relying on us or not, ask any third-party designer the following questions to make sure you’re covered:

Do you have the permission to license the copyrighted content?
Do you have model and property releases for all of your imagery?
Do you offer additional legal protection should a dispute arise?
Does your company have an inspection process for identifying potentially risky properties, trademarks, etc? Can you please describe the process?

In general, no business is too small to be exempt from copyright law. Anytime you want to use an image, you will need to obtain the correct usage rights, keep good records of any licenses that you purchase and renew the licenses when they expire. Since you are a commercial entity, this advice applies to both your website and to your social media presence, including blogs or social media platform pages, such as Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn or any other similar platform.

If you see an image you would like to use and you aren’t sure where it comes from, you can run the image through a tool like PicScout Search to get licensing information about its owner.

Once you have the information you need, contact the image creator directly and negotiate a licensing agreement. For your own legal protection, make sure that any license you obtain has the necessary model and property releases if the images include people or items that are not public property. If you aren’t able to track down the origin of the image or can’t contact the image creator, it is best to choose an alternative.

If you run a small business, you may find copyright to be confusing and even limiting, since you may not have the legal resources to answer questions. With this advice on how to find and license images, you may be surprised by how many options you have.

Some bloggers may not need to find images, because publicists or promoters send images to you. But these images aren’t always free to use. Copyright is automatically granted to the creator of any image, so it’s always best to cite the source to avoid potential legal disputes. Free images typically don’t come with any form of legal protection, so if a claim arises, you will be responsible. If a PR or marketing company licenses an image for third-party distribution, you will still need to credit the source to eliminate confusion.

With Embed, we make it free and legal to use any image, so there are no hassles or headaches to worry about. Embedding ensures all photographers receive credit for their work with a link back to our site, where the image can be licensed for commercial use.

With our new Embed feature, bloggers — even those who draw revenue from ads — can freely access more than 50 million award-winning images to make an even greater digital impact. Now you can share and embed our images to expand your social presence, attract more followers and engage your audience like never before. Drawing from our latest news, sports, celebrity, music and fashion coverage, plus an immense digital photo archive, we offer rich conceptual images to bring your passions, ideas and stories to life.

So long as your use of our imagery is not intended to sell a product, raise money or promote or endorse something, you can use our images in an easy and legal way. Individuals or businesses which use images on a blog for commercial gain require a license — even if it’s on Facebook. To find out more about different types of licenses which are available for commercial use, check out our tips on finding images and our image licensing checklist.

Start using Embed or view our Embed FAQs.

Sourcing free and licensed images

This information will help you determine which images you can use for free and which ones require a paid license.

Our new Embed feature makes it easy to share images on social media, blogs and websites. We’re providing everyone with millions of images for noncommercial use — all for free — while continuing to protect content creators’ ability to earn through commercial licensing. Use of Embed enables you to use our images to connect and engage with your audience, creating infinite opportunities for richer visual storytelling.

Learn more about sharing images and how to use our Embed feature.

Another potential source for free images is Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making it easy for people to share and legally build upon the works of others. Creative Commons (CC) licenses allow content creators to determine which rights they reserve — and which rights they waive — for the benefit of others. Restrictions include whether an image can be used for personal or commercial purposes and whether or not the photographer requires attribution or credit. The CC license is generally not useful for commercial or business use and does not include legal protection, so if a dispute arises about an individual, building, trademark or artistic work in that image, the customer may be liable for that claim. To find out more, visit Creative Commons.

Looking for free images? Here are a few tips to help you stay on the right side of copyright law.

The truth is, no matter where images are posted, they will most likely be subject to copyright laws. There’s a difference between an image being online and an image being “in the public domain” (work that is not protected by copyright). While free images are widely available, they typically do not include any legal protection. That means you will be responsible if a claim dispute arises, since most free images suppliers don’t include model or property releases or have inspection processes in place.

Free images are typically low-resolution, so the trade-off is measured in quality. When you “right-click-and-save” a free image, the file is typically low-resolution and will pixelate if you try to enlarge or print it. What’s more, free images can be overused to the point where their impact becomes devalued through overuse in the marketplace. Licensing an image through a photo library may cost a bit, but doing so allows you to choose the best resolution for your project and use it with confidence.

One reliable source for free images is Freeimages. This Getty Images site, which upsells to iStock by Getty Images, is a place where photographers share images with others at no charge. The license terms on Freeimages are clear, and you can easily see whether model and property releases are in place should you want to use one of these images commercially.

Need help finding images you can legally use? Here are some useful definitions and tips to help guide you through the process.

  • Royalty-free images are available for nearly unlimited commercial use once an initial license fee is paid. That means you can use the image in virtually any application, in as many different projects as you like, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement. Following payment of the license fee, no additional royalty payments are owed, but the original license is necessary to protect yourself and clients, and to do the right thing by the photographer.
  • Editorial images are also rights-managed images, licensed with restrictions on usage, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use and geographic distribution. All images must be used in an “editorial” manner, meaning that it must relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest.

Just because an image is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Google Image Search is an unreliable way to find work that you can use. Most of the content served up by the big search engines is not licensed and is presented in its entirety, without the permission of the content creators, which we feel exceeds the bounds of fair use. In most cases, use of images taken from the Internet requires permission and the correct licenses.

In addition, new technology now enables copyright owners to identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights. Imagery is “fingerprinted” so that it can be tracked and found in use, even if it’s been modified, recreated or only partially used. The image is then flagged to the copyright owner so that they can check whether the correct license or permission is in place.

Any image that you “right-click-and-save” belongs to someone — either the photographer or artist who made it, or a third party who owns the copyright. Copyright law gives the owner the right to control use of their image. While many copyright owners want their image to be used and seen, there are usually restrictions on how, when or where the image may be used. Unless a creator expressly gives up their rights to a work, those rights are reserved. If you use a copyrighted work without permission and it doesn’t qualify as fair use, you’ve infringed on someone’s copyright.

Under the Copyright Act, copyright protection begins from the moment a photo or other image is created. No notice is required, which means that if you find an image on the Internet without a copyright notice, it doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain (work that is not protected by copyright). Due to the complexity surrounding copyrighted images, it’s wise to do some research to determine the copyright status of any work you wish to use.


Appropriating work is the practice of intentionally borrowing, copying or altering existing images from another context to create new works of art.

Attribution is the act of establishing a particular person as the creator of a work of art.

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the creators of “original works of authorship.” By virtue of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, works are protected in all 160 countries that are party to the Convention.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the expanding the range of creative works available for others to legally build upon and share. Offering several free copyright licenses, creators are able to determine which rights they reserve — and which rights they waive — for the benefit of recipients or other creators.

Derivative work is a work that is based on or derived from one or more already existing works. Whenever you take an existing image and modify it to create a different image, you are making a “derivative work.”

Embed is a Getty Images feature that makes it easy, legal and free to share images for noncommercial use on blogs, social media and websites. To protect creators’ rights, embedded images include photographer attribution and links back to us, where the image can be licensed for commercial use.

Fair use is one of several legal limitations on the exclusive rights granted to copyright owners. It allows people other than the copyright holder to copy part or, in some circumstances, all of a copyrighted work, even where the copyright holder has not given permission or objects.

Four factors refer to the guidelines courts use on a case-by-case basis to evaluate fair use claims: the purpose and character of the use of the copyrighted work, the nature of the original work, the amount and sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the original work.

License is the permission granted by the copyright holder to copy, distribute, display, transform and/or perform a copyrighted work.

Public domain refers to works that are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited or are inapplicable.

The duration of copyright varies for different types of work and from country to country. The following are examples of public domain in the US:

All works published before 1923: and
Works out of copyright or works that have fallen out of copyright for failure to register or renew under the 1909 Act or for lack of notice before 1989.

Release is a written permission form an individual or property owner allowing the use of that person’s likeness or property (e.g., a private home, a place of business, a copyrighted work of art or, in some cases, an animal) in an image for commercial purposes.

Property and model releases are legally binding documents that indicate that the model or property representative grants their permission to use their likeness for commercial purposes. The purpose of the release is to ensure that you have permission of the model or property owner and to protect you from and future lawsuits or claims arising from defamation and invasion of privacy disputes.

Royalty-free means that, once licensed, an image may be used many times for certain uses without paying further fees — but the initial license is necessary to protect yourself and your clients.

Trademark allows protection of short phrases, distinctive words, titles, slogans, symbols, logos and other devices used to distinguish products, services and images from others.


Licensing an image doesn’t have to be a legal minefield. This simple checklist can help you choose the right images and license terms for any use.


For the most accurate advice, consult your legal counsel with specific questions that aren’t covered here.

Knowing who bears liability and assumes the costs, should a claim arise, is key to determining what’s covered by legal protection. Find out if you’re automatically covered and whether a limit exists on any legal fees.

When purchasing an image license for commercial use, it’s wise to confirm the supplier holds the appropriate model or property release to avoid legal disputes.

Royalty-free licenses usually don’t expire and can be used in many ways, while rights-managed licenses have time and use-based limitations.

How many times do you want to print or use the image? If you’re considering a rights-managed image but are unsure of the output, check whether you can extend the license or usage rights if your needs change over time.

How long do you want to use the image? For rights-managed images, prices vary for terms lasting from one week to several years. Ensure the license expiration date covers the length of the campaign or project.

Whether it’s for a billboard advertising campaign, brochure, website or mobile app, knowing the ultimate purpose will help you obtain the right image and the right license for your project.

Whether it’s for a billboard advertising campaign, brochure, website or mobile app, knowing the ultimate purpose will help you obtain the right image and the right license for your project.

License compliance

If you have been identified as using one or more images represented by Getty Images for online promotion and/or editorial purposes without a valid license for the use of the image(s) in your company’s name please resolve this matter by paying your settlement fee.

Learn more about resolving a settlement

Pay a settlement

Getty Images is deeply committed to protecting the interests, intellectual property rights and livelihood of the photographers, filmmakers and other artists who entrust Getty Images to license their work. Use of an image without a valid license is considered copyright infringement in violation of copyright laws.