I’d like to use photos from Wikipedia in my next book. It looks like I can use them for free. Is this true? I don’t want to make the mistake of violating someone’s copyright.
This issue came up last week when one of our authors submitted a manuscript with several photos that were obviously pulled from the Internet. I, of course, asked him where he obtained the photos and he said some of them were from Wikipedia. I then used Google’s image search option to find them and they definitely were NOT in the public domain.
Wikipedia makes it appear that you can use photos from their site. However, despite the disclaimers and attribution verbiage posted on Wikipedia, we definitely do NOT recommend using any photos from that site.
People from all over can upload files to that site and, naturally, some of those people won’t know and/or respect copyright law. Copyright infringement penalties can range from a few hundred dollars for accidental use to tens of thousands or more for intentional infringement.
As proof that not all photos used on that site are legal, they have a place on their website for people to report copyright infringement appearing on there.
Just because a website states you can use photos that were uploaded by others, YOU can still get sued for copyright infringement for using those photos yourself.
“Ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for ‘ignorance of law excuses no one.’)”
Source: Wikipedia (Yes, that’s where I really found the quote!)
If you need stock photos for your book or article, I recommend purchasing them from a site like iStockPhoto.com or Dreamstime.com.
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I have gotten excellent free high quality photographs for my web projects at:
They use a great creative commons license you can read here:
Depending on the type of photos you need, you can use any photo taken by NASA, the USGS, the US Dept. of the Interior and the US Forest Service. All of their photos are in the public domain because they are funded by the Federal Government with tax dollars. They do request that you give them a credit line, but it’s not required. On some of these government sites, individuals not working for the government will provide photographs. You will need permission to use those photographs.
Sign up at some stock photo agencies as they will put up weekly photos that you can use for free.
There are also the following sites that have free photographs:
I’ve used Wikipedia as a source for many years. They are much better on specifying crediting and use now, — click on each photo you seek details on copyright/use, and you’re taken to a page of rights for that photo. If there is something that I use, I keep a date/time copy of the Wiki page showing that on that particular date the photo was in public domain/attribution-free/etc… That being said, I never use one with a recognizable face as there is no signed model release on any I’ve come across on the site. I generally use only photos from Wiki that are in public domain (worldwide…and there are many differences in copyright conventions from country-to-country).
You may also find Wikimedia Commons another great source of public photos…especially writers who want to get a true feel of a country, its environs and people, foods, culture. Again, photos are available like Wikipedia. And again, caution should rule. In publishing, when all else fails and you just aren’t certain…like the great advice from the Expert here, buy a photo from a legit stock image seller (where your models sign releases) and just use the Wikis for your writing inspiration.