How to: Find Images

Maybe you want to make photocomics, collage, or other mixed-media comics, using images that were not created by you. Read on to learn where to look for free images, and how to avoid copyright infringement.

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are not owned or controlled by anyone, and thus available for you to use in your comics. Wikipedia maintains a ginormous list of public domain image resources — historical photos, government photos, scans of copyright-expired books, paintings, logos…

Licensed Images

Some copyright-holders are happy to let other artists use their images, but may not want companies using them (or even may not want other artists using them in "stingy" ways). Thus arose the beauty of Creative Commons. (See the comic "How It Works" for an overview of, well, how it works.)

A variety of licenses exist, but if you're looking for images to use in your comics, you'll want images that have a "derivatives allowed" (remix, modify) license. Be sure to check if the license on the image you want requires you to license your comic under CC — a "share-alike" license requires you to "pass the favor forward" and allow other people to use your comic in their art.

To find CC-licensed images:

Clip art is also typically issued under some sort of user license — check to see what the license permits.

Fair Use of Copyrighted Images

U.S. copyright law permits Fair Use of copyrighted images, which includes using an image to "criticize" or "comment" upon it. Your comic may or may not qualify as Fair Use. If you choose to do this, keep in mind a few things:

  1. Fair Use refers to copyright. Trademarks don't count.
  2. Fair Use is a legal defense. In other words, its protective force kicks in at the end of a legal process. Fair Use cannot protect you from someone else suing you (although it may protect you from losing the suit), nor can it protect you from harassment via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Keep in mind that some copyright-holders have a history of using intimadatory lawsuits to suppress Fair Use of their images. We don't mean to be too warning-and-foreboding about Fair Use, but it's good to know that sometimes there's a difference between what should happen and what does happen.
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