How to find FREE Images, Sound, Music, and Videos – that you can use LEGALLY
August 17, 2018 Jonathan Gebauer (Last updated: 2018/08/20)
When you are blogging, you absolutely need free images – that you can use legally. When you are podcasting, you need a soundeffect or a piece of music once in a while. And even when you are creating videos, you might from time to time need a snippet of video that you can’t shoot yourself.
In short, when you are creating anything for the online world, you absolutely need third-party content to make your own content awesome.
If you don’t know what you are doing, you are entering a legal minefield. And if you aren’t careful, you may receive a friendly letter from a lawyer with a DMCA takedown notice. Or worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way – and finding images, free music and sounds, or free video clips you can use for free and without the fear of getting into legal trouble is easier than you think.
Now, before I start: I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t claim to be. This represents the rules that apply to us online content creators as I understand them. If I got something wrong, please tell me, but don’t eat me.
Later in this post, I will give you a list of sites that allow you to download free images, music, sound, and even video snippets for free that you can use anywhere without breaking any laws.
But first, we have to talk about licenses.
How not to do it:
Let’s say you are creating a podcast and you need some music for your intro.
You probably already have a piece of popular music on repeat in your mind that would be absolutely perfect.
Forget that piece – that’s not going to work.
To be allowed to use this song, you will have to either pay royalties per download of your podcast – or negotiate a contract with the artist. It’s going to be expensive. You won’t be able to afford it. And as a hobbyist podcaster, you probably don’t even know where to start.
So forget about having Taylor Swift sing the intro song for your podcast.
Same goes for free images – an image is either popular, or available for free, or neither. But never both.
Also, forget all the myths about:
“I’m not using it commercially, so it’s ok…” – No, it’s not.
“I only use less than 10 seconds. It’s ok…” – No, it’s not.
“I’m so small, nobody cares…” – Yes, they do.
“I’m giving credit to the owner, so it’s ok…” – You can guess the correct answer, right?
Similar rules apply to all other content forms.
What about FAIR USE?
Fair use… the concept creeps up again and again when it comes to using music, movie segments, or images. But very few people actually understand what it means.
Here is a definition by Stanford University:
For example, if you wish to criticize a novelist, you should have the freedom to quote a portion of the novelist’s work without asking permission. Absent this freedom, copyright owners could stifle any negative comments about their work.
However, definition of fair use varies – and is different from country to country. So check the laws in your country as well.
Whether a specific usage of a piece of content is actually fair use when a copyright owner doesn’t think so is usually a case for a judge.
The key terms are commentary and criticism – although there is more to it.
See the Stanford University link above again.
Here are some simple examples:
Running a movie critique channel on Youtube? You are probably fine using segments from James Cameron’s 1997 movie Titanic. That’s critique.
You probably can also use scenes from the movie in a Youtube video showing that the movie got the sinking of the Titanic totally wrong. That’s commentary.
Running a movie podcast? You can probably use some lines from the movie to make a point.
BUT: You still can’t use the theme for your podcast intro.
If you are in doubt whether you can use a piece legally under Fair Use, ask yourself the following question: Do you have the money or power to fight a legal battle with the owner of the copyright?
If not, don’t use it.
Free Content Licenses