Let’s face it, when we look at anything online it’s much more visually appealing when there are images to accompany any text. It breaks up all that writing and just makes the screen look better. So it’s an understandable temptation to head off into the world of the internet and search for images that will make what you’re saying more compelling.

Yet this is where you run the risk of getting yourself into hot water. We’re talking copyright.

A common misunderstanding about copyright laws is that they were established to give the author the right to deny their work to other people. In actual fact they were created to encourage people to create original work, knowing that it would be protected from plagiarism. Many people believe that the lines are much more blurred when it comes to online image use. But the rules of copyright and image ownership apply as much online as in print and could mean that you’re unwittingly using an image that you don’t have the rights to. Whilst this may seem like it’s a non-issue, it’s, in fact, the opposite. You are using someone else’s work without obtaining their permission which is illegal. You could find yourself lumbered with a sizeable fine for breaking copyright law.

Ideally, the holy grail of a media library is to have a wide stock of original images that you have taken yourself. When you’ve taken it, you own it and there’s no recourse. You’re allowed to use it when and where you like – and give others permission to use it too. If you use an image that you didn’t take yourself, just giving someone accreditation for using it may not be enough either, so unless you’re absolutely sure you have permission from the owner of the image, steer clear.

But all is not lost. There are a number of great websites that offer royalty and attribution free images that you can use again and again without any issue. There is something called “creative commons” licencing where photographers have given away their rights to their images, either completely for free or for use with attribution. Some search engines have settings that allow you to search online for images that adhere to creative commons licencing – both Google Images and flickr are examples of this.

If you’re still hunting for other stock images that fit the bill then there are some excellent resources for royalty free images. Some websites may concentrate on more business related images, others might focus on nature photography for example. The best way to approach your image hunt is to use the various different sites as your “bag of tricks”, searching through them all to find the perfect image for your individual needs.

Here are our top 5:

Pixabay This is my go-to image resource. it contains over 1.4 million royalty free stock photos and videos shared by a very generous community of photographers. There are plenty of corporate images on there but the range is also much wider than this. The excellent reassuring fact is that all images are attribution free, so they can be easily dropped into your posts online.

Pexels Another excellent resource that has no attribution requirement. I tend to consult both Pixabay and Pexels whenever I need an image. You could always “pay back” the favour on both websites by contributing to the library with some of your own original images.

Gratisography If you’re looking for something a little less corporate and a little more weird and wonderful then this is the site for you! The library of free high-resolution images can be used for all personal and commercial projects.

Life of Pix This resource exists as a result of Canadian based creative and design agency, LEEROY. There’s a sister website too called Life of Vids that’s perfect if you’re looking for something more animated.

Death to stock photos The ultimate library that actively avoids cheese! The creators of this resource can’t stand those poor quality cheesy photos that are awash in the world of stock photography. They send out 10 brand new images each week by email and they even offer editing tips on how to change the photos to suit your needs.

On many of these websites you need to register an account to be able to access the images, but once you’re done, you really can have the peace of mind that you’re accessing a vast selection of images that won’t get you into trouble!