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Breaking the chains of clip art for free

I can remember it as if it were yesterday. The smell of the copy toner, the feel of the invisible tape and the hours browsing our church’s many volumes of clip-art books. After a lot of painstaking taping and typing, we would produce the most rad youth newsletter in town. However, times have changed, and clip art has lost its edge over professionally produced images and drawings.

Finding images can be difficult, and Google is not your friend here. Sure, image results come up in your favorite search engine when you do sermon research. In most cases, though, those images are illegal for you to use.

It is tricky because sites need not provide a copyright notice, and authors need not register them with the U.S. Copyright Office. Unless someone gives you explicit permission to use an image, it is illegal to use it and you could be fined up to $150,000 for using it if it is copyrighted officially.

One solution is to learn to take excellent photos with your smartphone. Here are several tips on taking inviting photos of your church. Another answer is to use stock art. Different artists and companies offer these images with the explicit permission you need to stay in the clear.

If you have money to spend, you can always go to places like Shutterstock, Pond5 and iStockPhoto to get quality images quickly. However, if you spend a little extra time and employ a more critical eye, you can get the same (or close to the same) quality for free.

Here are several great sites to get you started.

To evaluate each of these sites, I did several church-related searches like “Easter,” “communion” and “cross.” Here is what I found with their content and their terms of service:

Pixabay has a huge selection, a great search tool and all their images fall under the CC0 license, which basically means they're public domain. Feel free to modify images and use them in any context without attribution.

Other excellent CC0 stock photography sites:

Creationswap images are high quality and geared toward church use. You will find postcards, slides, invitation cards, banners, mini movies and more. File formats include standard jpegs as well as vectors and videos. There is a wide variety of free and for-sale files to use; however, if you want to use them for a product to sell, you must secure an additional license. Sing up and get three free images per month.

Morguefile uses an intuitive search and includes a high volume of files. All my searches came up with interesting and beautiful options in a variety of styles. Most images ask that you give attribution (i.e., “By John Doe”) when using an image as they do on their homepage under the “example” image. You can find that information on each file’s page.

StockExchange has great, high quality images but requires you to register (free) to download the files. Their search feature does not handle more than a single word well. Each image creator can select the specifics of the rights he or she is giving away, and most want a simple attribution. You will find the details of those rights under each image in the “availability” section.

Wikimedia Commons is associated with Wikipedia. This site has tons of free images of classical pieces of artwork. Even if you have to add a fig leaf here or there, nothing is quite like Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam when you are talking about Genesis. Although some works are free and in the public domain, some are original and have specific restrictions (usually attribution) found in the “licensing” section below each image.

Flickr includes 60 million photos uploaded each month. this is the place to go if you are loking for the largest selection. In order to deal with the rights issues, make sure to check the “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” in the advanced search settings. Then each image will state if you must attribute it under the additional info section.

When inserting a byline on your website, it is courteous to link the content creator’s name to their Flickr profile (e.g. by John Doe).

Happy hunting!

Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steele is the teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.

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