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Using Morguefile Free Images on a Website

Morguefile Free Image Use License

Morguefile Free Image Use License

Morguefile has an extensive free image library you can use on a website. However, you need to be aware that not all photos they show you are free. Whie there are thousands of photos to use on your website, blogs or other online writing (including on sites like Hubpages), you do have to be aware of what you're looking at, so you're sure you've used it legally.

I've written this article to help the beginner pick their way carefully round the Morguefile free photos section, so you don't end up frustrated, annoyed and still without an image you can use.

Knowing where to find free images - and then trying to understand them so you use them legally is a minefield for first-timers. The wording and language used doesn't help at all.

Understanding the Morguefile License

You can find the Morguefile License at When you go there, there is a Plain English version of their full license.

What this tells you is how you can use it, but you need to understand what the wording means.

Let's take one item at a time:

  • You are Free to Remix, to adapt the work. This means you can make changes to the original image. You might be cropping it, or adding bits to it, or removing some parts. You can use this image to join together with other images you're working with.
  • You are free to use this work for commercial purposes. This statement is enough to cover you for use on your OWN website, or in blogs/writing sites you contribute to (e.g. like Hubpages).
  • You are free to use the image without attributing the original author. This means you do not have to provide any link to the author's website or image, nor give their name at all.

Now, the next section tells you what you are not allowed to do and includes:

  • Stand-alone basis: You can not sell, license, sub-license, rent, transfer or distribute this image exactly as it is without alteration. This means you cannot "steal" the image and take it from here and upload it to another library where you sell it. It also means you can't collect your own library of images together an charge people fees to use the image. Note the wording at the end where it says "without alteration" - that means that it would be possible for you to use the image and change it, then sell it or add it to an image library. These are not things bloggers/writers need to concern themselves with - this rule is for people who are trading in images and making an income from selling images.
  • Ownership: You may not claim ownership of this image in its original form. This means you cannot take the image and use it as it is, then say it's yours. Note the words at the end, "in its original form" - this means that if you use the image as part of a bigger project of your own work, then it's OK to say the end image is your own. Again, this type of rule is aimed at graphic designers more than bloggers/writers.

How to Find the Free Photos on Morguefile

While there are many free images on Morguefile that you can use on your website, there are also many images that you have to buy. Their business model is to offer free images, and to offer paid images alongside, hoping that people will end up buying images as they tend to be better, or closer to what a designer might be after.

For bloggers/writers, the importance of getting "exactly the right image" is much less. We're happy for an image that's "OK to convey or show what I mean".

Morguefile Free Image Tab

Morguefile Free Image Tab

First - notice the Free Images link and click it. When you click, you're taken to a page that has a tabbed section.

Four Tabs

Notice the four tab names:

  • Morguefile
  • Dreamstime
  • Shutterstock
  • Fotolia

The last three of these are what are known as Image Libraries, or Photo Libraries. While each of them may have some free images, in the main their purpose is to sell you images. If you look through you'll probably see that every image has a watermark on it.

Look at the images in the Morguefile tab and there are no watermarks.

On the right hand side, you might notice there is a search box, notice this says "Free Photos" alongisde it. This is a clue that you've not strayed elsewhere. You need to always be scanning/checking that you're still in the free photos section in case you wandered off....

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Morguefile Free Photos Search Box

Morguefile Free Photos Search Box

Type what you're looking for into the search box and press the FREE PHOTOS button.

Once you are shown the results, look down and see if there's one you want. For now, just click any one as there's something you need to see.

Final Check:

You're now at the final check part. Having clicked on an image, you should see all the photo information on your screen. But, you can confirm at this point that you have chosen a photo that has the Free License.

You need to be seeing this:

Morguefile Free Photo License

Morguefile Free Photo License

Does It Say Free License?

That's all you're looking for - they tell you right there that the photo is available under their Free License. That means you can use it on your blogs, websites, for your writing, etc.

Notice they handily remind you exactly what the license is:

You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit the work and to adapt the work. Attribution is not required. You are prohibited from using this work in a stand alone manner.

So there it is. Now download it - they don't even force you to open an account.

Using The Images

Now you've downloaded the image you can use any Image Editor to change, mix, crop or alter the image so it suits your needs.

Graphic designers typically use Photoshop software to produce high quality images - but for many people, free graphics programs such as are more than sufficient to do the job.

More From This Author:

  • Using Images and Photos Legally On Your Website
    When you are building your own website, you will want to add in photos. But how do you know if you are allowed? Where do you find photos for your website? The Internet is full of photos and they seem to be freely available but mostly it is illegal to

© 2013 Dedicated Content Curator


Dedicated Content Curator (author) from United Kingdom on September 16, 2014:

Phil - it's more complex than that. Whether a person (or a building in some cases) requires a model release will depend upon the country the photo was taken in, how much of the person is recognisable, which country the image is used in, how the image is used (e.g. what type of article). In the main, if you're writing generic articles, using photos where people aren't terribly identifiable it's not something to worry about..... but if you write contentious or argumentative, or on subjects that divide people, you have to be more careful.

Phil on September 13, 2014:

Thanks for this article. I think use of the term 'stand-alone basis' is very confusing. They could easily have said 'without alteration' which would be much clearer. My suspicion is that this is deliberately intended to confuse, in order to trap people into using images, so that they can then be sued. Are you aware of whether morguefile or any of their contributors are doing this sort of thing?

If you dig a bit deeper, it does explain exactly what they mean by stand-alone, but I'm sure that not everyone will take the trouble to do this, and may therefore use an image without modification without realising that is required.

Another thing that concerns me, and again you only find this when digging deeper into the site (and your article does not cover this issue) is that it says that "You are still responsible for the legal content of the images including model releases and property releases". You have to go into the FAQ section to find this. Does this mean that if I use a photo that is a picture of a person, that they can then come and claime for use of them as a model?

Dedicated Content Curator (author) from United Kingdom on January 04, 2014:

Marisa - as I understand their license, that only applies under a "stand alone basis", so if you just took the image, say, and posted it as a stand alone piece - as an illustration for a post it is no longer stand alone.

Kate Swanson from Sydney on December 30, 2013:

I've just discovered something.

You can't use photos from Morguefile "as is". You MUST alter them. If you want ot use a photo in its original form, you must email the individual photographer and ask their permission, and credit the photographer. You'll find the relevant conditions in the FAQ on the site.

It looks like I (and a lot of other people) totally misunderstood how the licence worked (or maybe it has changed).

I'd suggest revising this Hub to make that clear, as I know I'm not the only one who got it wrong.

Kate Swanson from Sydney on August 28, 2013:

@Sue, the rules for Morguefile are unusually generous - you can't remix or adapt Flickr photos and call them your own, for instance.

Dedicated Content Curator (author) from United Kingdom on August 28, 2013:

It's difficult to say, without sight of what you intend, but when it says "Ownership: You may not claim ownership of this image in its original form. This means you cannot take the image and use it as it is, then say it's yours. " my interpretation of that is that, once you've changed the image you can say it is yours. However, in the real world, that would be subjective and would depend partly on how you changed it.

One thing that should never be done with free images is to use them in your own company logo or branding. I won't go into the reasons for this, except this is best avoided because if ownership of the original image were ever disputed and use were ever disputed, it could end up costly to resolve.

The main thing people do wrong with Morguefile is assume all photos are free. They are NOT. You MUST stay in the free section and make sure that Free License part is present.

Many people wander into the other tabs and use those images, thinking they are free.

If in doubt, you should always contact the original pwner direct. That's the golden rule for "all photos, anywhere" as the rules aren't always as clear as they make them on morguefile.

Juliette Kando FI Chor from Andalusia, southern Spain on August 28, 2013:

Thank you for this Earner,

I am going through the process of legalizing my HP images. Glad to see that the rules are less scary than I thought. Actually, I like the rules. They allow for growth/change in a picture. And with the change, also a change of ownership, right?

What with Pinterest being such a traffic booster now, I feel encouraged to produce good quality catching pictures by Photo-shopping an existing original which I can then claim as mine once altered.

Very time consuming, but I enjoy this type of work.

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