Where can I get free photos for PowerPoint?

August 29, 2012

Free photos!Boring PowerPoint’s for chumps, and by now we all know that photographs can really elevate a presentation. What they can also elevate are your expenses, because royalty-free photographs can run into some money depending on how many you include.

Some people think that images they find online are free because they are, well, online. This is wrong, and in many cases it is a breach of copyright law to use photos you find online without paying for them. Unless you are given explicit permission, whether it is granted to you in writing or if you have purchased a license, you shouldn’t use photographs you’ve found on the Internet in your presentation. You have to dig deeper than a simple Google image search.

This doesn’t mean there are no free images available to you. On the contrary, there are many ways to get free photographs for your PowerPoint presentations or for personal use that won’t land you in Copyright Court.

  • MorgueFile is a “public image archive by creatives for creatives” that offers thousands of free images.
  • Stock.xchng has a robust search engine and the ability to create lightboxes (collections of photos) which you can share with others.
  • Wikimedia Commons is a vast collection of photographs, many of which are in the public domain. This means that the copyright has expired and you can use the photos freely. Other images are offered under the Creative Commons license, which means that you must “attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.” This is usually as simple as putting the phrase “Image © 2012 Joe Smith via Wikimedia Commons” on or near the image in your presentation. Scroll down the screen to determine what the copyright situation is for each image you find.
  • Use your own pictures. How many of us have a smartphone that can take pictures? OK, you can put your hands down; I can’t see you anyway. If your smartphone takes high-resolution photos then why not use some of these in your presentations? Or you could use your digital camera for better resolution. Images of clouds, grass, city streets, traffic signs, and any number of subjects are just a click away. And you can submit your own photos to MorgueFile or Stock.xchng if you want to share the wealth.

One big caveat

You knew that the other shoe had to drop sometime, right?

Photographs of people require special consideration. If it’s impossible to tell who the people are, such as in a blurred image of a crowd, a hand holding an object, or a foot kicking a ball, then you don’t have to worry. But photographs of identifiable people require a model release — written permission from the subject of the photograph to use the image for commercial purposes (e.g., your PowerPoint presentation). You can get into legal trouble for using a person’s photograph without their explicit permission, especially if your use implies their endorsement of your product or idea.

Stock photography companies take care of obtaining model releases, but there’s not much governance on the free photo sites. If you’re using your own photographs, the same rule applies: get a model release or don’t use pictures of identifiable people.

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The Principals of Copyright

August 31, 2011

You may have noticed a potential misuse of the word “principal” in the headline of this blog. But it was no accident: the subject of this blog is the new principal of my sons’ school. She gave a PowerPoint presentation that violated one of the main principles of the use of copyrighted images: you must pay for what you use.

The new principal was hosting a meet-and-greet to introduce herself and was telling us about her background. One of her slides detailed her hobbies, and looked something like this:

Bad PowerPoint slide

Apart from the fact that these images are tiny and therefore don’t communicate as well as they would if they were larger, they are clearly cut and pasted from a Web site, as indicated by the watermarks and the file information that appears below each one. I don’t think it made an impression on anybody else in the audience, but it made a profound one on me.

Photographers make money from the sale or licensing of their images. That’s why photo processing centers will not make duplicates of any photographs that bear the photographer’s or studio’s copyright mark, and it’s also why a portrait session with a professional photographer generally doesn’t cost a lot (they make their money by selling prints).

The Web has been both a blessing and a curse for photographers. On the one hand, it’s easy to get one’s work seen by a vast audience of potential clients. On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to copy images from a Web site and paste it into whatever one wants. For free. And that amounts to stealing.

Photographers and royalty-free photo sellers such as iStockphoto, Getty Images, and Veer imprint all images with a watermark, usually a logo going right across the center of the image. It is supposed to prevent people from using images they haven’t purchased or licensed, but in this case it wasn’t enough of a deterrent.

While this instance of copyright infringement didn’t register with this group, imagine if someone did this in a corporate setting, say at a keynote presentation, annual sales meeting, or client pitch. The presenter would be demonstrating that:

  1. He didn’t pay for the artwork
  2. He doesn’t care if everybody knows it

Realistically, there is very little that photographers and their agents can do to prevent this type of copyright infringement. There are no Copyright Police who surreptitiously attend corporate meetings. You are not going to jail for snagging a picture from flickr and not correctly attributing it. And people typically are not going to report you for engaging in this practice. Legally, though, it is stealing. Ethically, stealing is wrong. By not paying for images we use in our presentations, we are saying that stealing is OK sometimes if nobody catches us doing it. Is that true?

You can be sure that I will be speaking with our new principal about copyright issues and the unconscious messages she’s sending so that she doesn’t make the same mistake again.


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