I'm selling pdf's product using pictures that someone drew for us. We want to use some free pictures available on Internet.

So when the website says we can use images for commercial use does it mean we can sell it in our pdf product? We always specify who created the image or provide a direct link.

  • It is a very complex issue, and it depends on where you are and what exactly was in the license saying it is free. So care to point to the license. Note not having a license disclaimer means it is not free by default. – joojaa May 6 '16 at 9:01

"Free pics on the internet" are quite likely pictures that someone put on the internet without permission. If you find a picture and no note how can pay for its use that doesn't mean it is free for you to use. If there is no note how can use it, it means you cannot use it. You can only use it if the copyright holder allows you to use it, and you can only use it for free if the copyright holder allows you to use it for free.

At shutterstock.com I can buy five pictures with a quite generous license for £32 (that's the smallest purchase, larger numbers get a lot cheaper per picture). That's not worth doing something illegal and possibly getting into expensive legal trouble.

Note that if a website says you can use pictures for free for commercial usage, that doesn't actually mean the copyright holder has allowed it. Anyone can pirate huge numbers of pictures and claim anything.

  • But doesn't the assertion by the site that it can license them for commercial use offer any protection to the party that acts on that basis? I.e., would the copyright holder have a claim (other than a cease and desist order) against the party that relied in good faith on the pirate's assertions that the pirate owned copyright or licensing rights? Presumably there's some limit to the due diligence a person must perform to find the true owner of a copyright. – feetwet May 21 '16 at 16:47
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    @feetwet Such a case with a misleading seller would be innocent infringment by the purchaser/user. From the case-law quotes on that link: "The defendant must prove that it did not know and should not have known that its conduct constituted infringement." and they "must not only establish its good faith belief in the innocence of its conduct, [but] it must also show that it was reasonable in holding such a belief." Both of those seem satisfiable in the case you suggest. In that case, the court can reduce the fine as it deems fit. – apsillers Jun 20 '16 at 16:58

As Gnaster729 said, you only can use free pics from Internet when they are explicitly licensed to do so.

The commercial nature of your usage only matters when the license doesn't allows commercial usage. For example, if you find images licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC, you can't use those images in a pdf you sell, although you could use them in a pdf you distribute for free (at least if it is not an advertisement). For other uses, beware that the limit between commercial and non-commercial uses is quite fuzzy.

There are other free licenses that allow you commercial use, but you should abide to license conditions and they may include not modifying the image, properly attributing it, licensing your work or at least your copy of the image under the same free license, and so.

Furthermore, you should do some research to be reasonably sure that the freely licensed image you use is not a copyright infringement in itself - for example, somebody could have grabbed a non-free image from the Internet and uploaded it to Flickr under a free license. Even sites like Wikimedia Commons which actively search and delete copyrighted content (often to paranoic levels) aren't free of some copyright infringements.

  • Be careful of what you say when using BY-NC licenses. You don't have to directly sell them to be infringing upon the license. Quite frankly, it's better to simply stay away from them. – Zizouz212 Jul 23 '16 at 20:14
  • I also said that the limit between commercial and non commercial is difficult to asses, and most sites that host stuff intended for reusing (like Wikimedia Commons) discourage or forbid NC restrictions. Anyway, some uses are clearly non commercial so there is some space to reuse NC images. And of course standing away from everything is the safest way to avoid problems - the safest advice would be don't publish anything and you won't have any copyright issue. – Pere Jul 23 '16 at 20:49

A far as I know, you can't sell the pictures directly but you can use them to sell your product. If you have the copyright for the pictures or the licenses to use from the original artist, then you can do whatever you want with the pictures.

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