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Can I Sell Products That Use Free Images Off the Internet?


Shirt made by Samantha Bear for The Banner Year concert for Tyler's Birthday

Get permission for images used on items for resale, such as iron-on transfers on t-shirts (this particular shirt wasn't for resale but we did get permission to use the image).

© Samantha Bear

Using images (clip art, photos, illustrations, etc.) you purchase on products intended for resale (such as greeting cards or t-shirts using iron-on designs) often requires obtaining special licensing beyond what is normally included in the standard terms of usage. The same may be true of some free images.

Know your source. Know the terms of usage for each image you plan to use.

"Normally, the use of clip art images in ads, brochures, and newsletters is covered in the license agreement. However, some companies do impose certain limits. ...the resale of images incorporated onto greeting cards, t-shirts, and mugs...is normally not part of the standard terms of usage. However, some companies will sell additional licensing that allows the use of their images on resale products.Using Clip Art on Resale Products

Terms to Know: artwork | clip art | freeware | public domain


Unless it is a true public domain image, free clip art and photos generally do come with some type of licensing agreement. Sometimes the image is free for personal use only. Some may be for commercial use. Some might ask that you contact the artist and tell them how you are using their image.

"If a work is within the public domain, it means that work may be used, modified or republished by any person, without the need for royalties or fear of copyright infringement."Public Domain Clip Art - About.com Clip Art

Even if the images you want to use are provided free for commercial use, that might not include use on resale products. Carefully read the terms of usage provided with any free images obtained from the Internet. Track down the original creator of the image if necessary. Sometimes simply asking permission is all that's required. Other vendors or artists may require the purchase of additional licensing, just as they do for some purchased artwork.

Is It Really Free? Before You Use Any Image On Resale Products

For any use of images found online, especially commercial use, do your research to determine if the images are truly free. There are many sites out there that say they are distributing free images but are simply grabbing the clip art and photos from any number of places without determining if the author intended them to be freely distributed. If the site provides a name and link to the creator or photographer, locate their site online. Look for their licensing information.

If the creator or photographer is not named or is listed as unknown or if the same images show up on many different sites listed as free or public domain or with different artists listed, be wary. The images may not be truly free and you risk copyright infringement charges, especially if you use the images commercially — including on items for resale.

Free images are still covered by a copyright. It may have very liberal terms of usage but it is up to you, the user, to determine if the use you propose is within those terms of usage.

Play it safe. Find out exactly what the license contains for any image you want to use on products for resale. If not spelled out, contact the creator or vendor and ask.


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