Royalty free clipart and photos aren’t necessarily free for every purpose. If you want to use royalty free clipart or photos for website design, stationary, business cards, t-shirts, mugs or other merchandise you must first read the terms and conditions of use. You will find that many sites are highly restrictive in how you use the art or photos. It’s very common to find that using the art on stationary is ok, but putting it on merchandise is forbidden. Using the art for purposes other than those allowed can result in ugly legal complications.
The good news is that there re a number of sites that offer free photos and/or art that you can use for almost any purpose. Here are some that you might want to explore.
NASA home site (www.nasa.gov/)
Nasa has a wide variety of science, astronomy and space exploration photos available for download and use. Many, but not all, are in the public domain. Some of those in the public domain may have additional legal restrictions based on other legal issues. Fortunately NASA has a very clear guidelines sections that spells out what you can and can’t use from their photo library. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines and check the photo you want to use carefully against them to void legal hassles.
The Library Of Congress (www.loc.gov/index.html)
The Library Of Congress is perhaps the largest source of photos you can use on the planet. They are the repository for images dating back to the earliest days of photography. It is important to note that not every image here is free to use. Many have been submitted to the library but rights have been retained by the owner. Fortunately each photo has a tab showing the known rights history of the photo so it’s fairly easy to determine it’s usability.
The Open Clip Art Project (http://openclipart.org/)
If you want to be on the safest ground possible it is fairly inexpensive to license clip art. Photos tend to be more expensive, sometimes prohibitively so. One good alternative is clipart.com. This site provides access to all art and photos for a single time based licensing fee. The recent emphasis for new material added to the site is in photos with more being added regularly. For the heavy user an annual license is inexpensive and recommended.
Remember that royalty free means that you pay no royalty on approved usage, it does not mean all usages are approved. There are other issues beside copyright that can affect usability of an image. Some common things to avoid are the use of images where a person is identifiable (exception: public domain images of politicians for use in political speech), the use of trademarks within an image, and the use of a copyrighted image within another image. It’s up to you, the user, to insure your image is free to use so always read website’s guidelines and FAQS and when in doubt, don’t.