How to make money from my public domain pictures

How to Make Money using Public Domain Pictures

I wrote this guide for newbies so they can have a reference when using public domain pictures to make money.  Please note that I am not a lawyer and my views here are my interpretation of what I have researched related to public domain.  These are not legal advice and should not be taken as official interpretation of the law on copyrights.    I tried to arrange the topics such that first time users of public domain pictures will be able to follow the article.

Definition of Public Domain Pictures

Before we proceed with how to make money from public domain pictures, we should first understand what "public domain" mean in order for us to have the knowledge on how to properly use them and avoid getting into copyright related trouble.

Guide to making money from public domain pictures
Picture with the word "money".
Public Domain is defined as simply available for the public to use as these are not protected by copyright law.  Therefore, these are picture, photographs, or images available for any purpose whether that be personal or commercial.  Also take note that as these are not protected by copyright law and no one can claim ownership therefore these are free.

For the purposes of this photo blog, public domain pictures are photographs, images, illustrations, etchings, drawings, or edited pictures that are not protected by intellectual property laws including copyright, patent laws, or even trademarks.  These are therefore owned by no one, not even the myself who created them.  Therefore anyone can use them but can never own them as these are already in public domain.

Other Related Terms [Copyright-free and Royalty-free]

When searching for public domain pictures online, you will notice that there are other terms used to describe licenses of pictures.  Be very careful when using these picture as these may not entirely be pubic domain.

Sometimes photographers mark their pictures as "copyright-free pictures", "royalty-free pictures", or "creative commons"  .  These terms have varying degrees of license restrictions.  Always ask the creator of copyright-free pictures before using as they photographer may just did not understand the meaning of these license terms.  Remember the rules of using public domain.

Note:  For the purposes of this photo blog, we interchangeably use these terms [copyright free pictures, royalty free pictures, free pictures, pubic domain pictures] but they all mean public domain. Meaning, they are free and are really dedicated in the public domain.

How do you know whether these are really  in the public domain?

There are different ways as to how these pictures are classified as public domain.

1.  Copyright expiration or failure to renew copyright

Remember, copyright is different in each country so always consider the location of the creator of the images before you apply any copyright law you are aware of.

In the US, here 's an incomplete quick guide:

  • Unpublished  photographs are copyright protected up to 70 years after the creators death.  As of January 2015, any unpublished work of a person who died in 1945 are now in public domain.
  • Published pictures prior to 1923 are in public domain.
  • Published works from 1923 to 1977 with no copyright notice are in pubic domain.
  • Anything published after 1923 with copyright notice, be conservative.  If no renewal was made, you can use them 70 years after the death of the creator or if these are created by a corporate entity, it is in public domain 120 after the creation.
Caution:  Please ask your lawyer for a complete guide on copyright law.

2.  All works of government employee or officer in the performance of his or her duty as a government employee [this does not include their personal creation during their personal time].

3.  Expressly or deliberately dedicating the images into the public domain by the creator.  Some photographers just expressly state that their pictures are dedicated in to the public domain.  This photo blog is an example.  See About of this photo blog for an example.

Public domain pictures commandments

Just because it is in the public domain does not give necessarily allow you to run wild.  You should atleast follow few unenforced commandments in using public domain pictures.  Remember, these are just guides that will make using public domain pictures fun for both the creature and the user.  It basically good manners.
  • Always credit the photographer or creator.
  • Do not use the pictures if the license of the picture is other than "public domain".  Always ask the creator for the license.  You do not want to be in legal trouble.  Photographers sometimes do not fully understand the legal implication of using works such as "copyright-free, royalty-free, free for use, "creative commons" etc."  The only sure way to protect yourself from any copyright lawsuit is to ask the creator.  If they do not respond to your inquiry, move on.  Remember, there are literally millions of public domain pictures available for download online.  You just have to know where to find them.
  • Do not compete with the creator of the public domain pictures you just downloaded.  For example, a photographer dedicates his pictures into the public domain and showcase them in a monetized photo blog, do not download his photo blog content and use them in a similar fashion.  That is just wrong.  Be creative.
  • If it was published after 1923, always clarify the creator for the license.  Remember, there are so many conditions that could have occurred such as license being renewed or extended.  Be very careful, anything published after 1923 onwards my still be copyrighted unless it now has been expressly dedicated into the public domain.
  • The best type of public domain pictures are those that have been expressly dedicated by their creators into the pubic domain.
  • Do not claim it as yours.

Online source or repository of public domain pictures

There are hundreds of sources of public domain online but be very careful when using the images of these websites as they have different licences.   I created a list of free pictures websites for commercial use so you can easily find them.

There are also tons of articles that lists down public domain websites, photo blogs, database but they pretty much include the same items in the list above.  If you are a blogger and you are still wondering about where you can download public domain pictures, feel free to check the link above.

How to make money from public domain pictures?

This is what you came here for.  To learn few possible ways to earn income from these public domain pictures.  Before I proceed with a list, let me caution you.  In order for you to succeed, you will need a set of goals, a little bit of creativity, passion to learn about public domain pictures, and a lot of patience.  The main idea here is to repackage the public domain pictures into usable products that has

Monetized photo blog 

As an example, this photo blog dedicate personal and amateur pictures into the public domain.  What that does is that it invites readers to explore the photo blog and in the process, may see what they looking for either in the actual photoblog contents [public domain pictures] or in the ads.  There are three factor that should be present in order for income to start trickling in.
  • Content -  In the word of monetized photo blogs, quantity is king.  The goal is to have as many pictures as you can dedicate.  This will give your reader a broad range of selections.  Even bad photos can be used to create a whole entirely new product.  Remember, there are hundreds of millions of internet users.  Somewhere our there is someone who can turn your blurry picture of a dog into a work of art.  Trust me.  I have seen this happen.
  • Traffic -  Before you can even monetize your blog, people should now your blog exist so you have to learn the basics of search engine optimization [SEO].  Remember to always follow good SEO practice to avoid getting banned by the search engines.  There are may ways to get your photo blog noticed.  One simple way is to responsibly share them to your social networks.  Make sure you also create back links by commenting on other blogs you like reading.
  • Appropriate ads There are a lot of ads servicing companies such as Adsense or Chitika.  You have to have an established viewership before you can apply for their service.  Using either way works but make sure you read and fully understood their terms and conditions in order for you to know how to appropriately use their service.  You can also promote affiliate links on your photo blogs.

Design for online products

There are several online services such as Cafepress and Zazzle that allows you to upload your picture and it identifies possible products that can use your picture such as a design for a t-shirt or a design for a coffee mug.  These recently have been flooded with similar ideas and there is probably no new idea that can breakout from the millions of similar products but its worth a try.  These services are also easy to use so if you can somehow find a way to get popular within these sites, you can probably make money using public domain pictures.  I have browse for the products and I think you can your public domain images as designs for greetings cards, postcards, posters, background papers, motifs, T-shirts, place-mats, mugs key-rings and many more.

Here's a list of the most popular site where you can sell products with designs using your own designs including public domain pictures.  The success of each person depends on the work you put in, just just a regular job.

  • Dreamstime.  Dreamstime is a stock photo website that sells millions of photos.  It also accepts member submissions where the member earn a portion of sales from the submitted photo.
  • CafePress -  This is probably the most popular website where you can upload your images and make money from.   After you upload the picture you want to make money from, the website will identify products where your picture will be printed (like mugs, t-shirts, key chains, cup holders,pens, etc).  CARE PRESS will do the rest.  If someone buys the product, you earn commissions.  Just make sure you have a unique pictures.
  • Zazzle.  This is similar to CafePress.
  • Spreadshirt -   Just like CAFE PRESS, all you have to do is create your own tee shirt design.  I have seen people download some of my images and alter them to create nice t-shirt designs.
  • Pikistore -  PIKISTORE also works like the above.  You can customize products where you pictures can be attached into.
  • Lulu -  If you are very good in modifying pictures or creative some awesome visual product from my public domain pictures, you can create a book or something you can sell on LULU.  They have a very good commission so if you are very creative, this might be something you can try.  Maybe you can create a collection of flower pictures and add poems or haiku in them and create a book out of it or something like that.
  • Blurb -  Just like LULU, if you can create a book out of my public domain picture and images, you can submit to BLURB and make money from it.
  • The Game Crafter.  If you can somehow create a game using public domain picture, you can join THE GAME CRAFTER and submit the game.  They do the marketing and sales so when someone purchases the game, you get dollars in you pocket.  You probably use the public domain images of animals to create a whole new set of characters in a game.
  • Imagekind -  This is perfect for photographers.  If you enjoy editing pictures and making something visually creative, you can submit your pictures to IMAGEKIND.
  • devianArt -  You can submit your artwork using my public domain pictures to this website and make money when someone purchases it.  Its a large collection of art work for sale.
  • Triond, Bukisa, Wikinut, etc -  If you do  not like to maintain your own blog, you can write articles with images and submit them to Triond, Bukisa, or Wikinut.  You make money from article views if you write good articles.

Sell as collection of work

You can collect public domain pictures and arrange them in a format that makes it easy for users to access.  I have seen someone doing this on e-Bay and that person is surprisingly alone in that niche.  I wonder when another person actually do the same and compete.  You can maybe collect public domain pictures of flowers, or public domain pictures of people or whatever.


If you like writing articles, poems or literary creations, you can also create an eBook using public domain pictures.  There are tons of free eBook makers out there.  Just Google them and you will find countless resources.  The next thing to think a out is where to sell your eBooks. Some examples of eBooks you an create using public domain images are cookbooks, haiku, poems, product reviews, travel reviews, etc.

Youtube videos

There are creative people out there who create YouTube videos using public domain pictures.  You can then monetize your YouTube videos once they generate traffic.  Here's one example.  

Wallpapers or posters

I excluded this from above as this can be a big thing for those are are really creative.  I guarantee you that there are tons of applications you can use to convert public domain pictures into awesome wallpapers or stand alone posters.  This is for the creative minds.

I hope you learned a bit about how to make money from public domain pictures.


Before you even try to venture into making money using public domain, here are few things to remember.

  • Educate yourself by understanding what copyright and public domain mean.
  • It is not easy to make money from public domain.  You will need patience, perseverance, and a lot of creativity.  Therefore, provide something unique.
  • Look out for ideas around the internet and innovate.
  • Learn about the supply and demand of you product.  Give away some if that jump starts your popularity.

Good luck!

Updated: August 15, 2015
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