Vol. 10 No. 1 — January 2002
When Image is Everything
by Nicolas G. Tomaiuolo • Instruction Librarian, Central Connecticut University
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The Internet's major attraction, apart from information shared among authors, scientists, government agencies, and businesses, is its rich offerings in terms of sounds and graphics. Although looking at the original (or even a copy) of the "Mona Lisa" or a Matthew Brady daguerreotype once necessitated a trip to a museum, bookstore, or library, the Web has made it possible to conveniently start with almost any search engine, type in a few keywords, and pull a facsimile out of the haystack of over a billion Web pages.

The most basic graphics include icons, buttons, wallpapers, and backgrounds. Surfers and Webmasters find these items and download them to enhance Web pages, reports, desktops, and presentations. As we move along the continuum, we discover a broad and ubiquitous range of spectacular drawings and photographs. For example, that strikingly crisp image of the "four-toed litter skink" is captured by the grade school students to serve as an illustration in a paper on rainforests. Or that image of Bill Clinton from his Grand Jury testimony might make its way into a professor's multimedia, law and ethics presentation in a freshman philosophy seminar. The range of Web images encompasses everything from animations of spinning compact discs to scans of the infamous, "crowd control gone bad" photo taken at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, to an .avi (video) of the frequently discussed Zapruder film of JFK in Dallas to one of Monet's Rouen cathedrals. It's all there for study, research, or enjoyment. Many images may be used for commercial as well as personal purposes; many are free, but many are not. Depending on individual needs, finding images on the Web can save considerable time and, in some cases, a significant amount of money. 

Image Search Engines — The Heavy Artillery
Searchers once found image files by combining a keyword with a file type. For example, a search using the general search engine Overture (formerly called for "polar bear and .jpg" would probably yield links to sites where an image of a bear resides in the .jpg (Joint Photographic Experts Group) format. A query on Northern Light for "dolphins and image" will retrieve thousands of hits, many with photos from paleontologists, maritime centers, and news sites. Image search engines make it unnecessary for the searcher to perform these operations by offering their own image searching options. These options require that the user simply type in a keyword and the image search engine will transparently match the keyword to sites with images.

How do image search engines work? To summarize Paula Berinstein's work from 1998: 

  • The engines sometimes look for graphics files. By detecting the presence of the "IMG SRC" (image source) tag or the GIF or JPG file extension, the engine knows that an image is probably available. 
  • By matching your keyword search with the file name, the engine can roughly determine the content of the file. This might happen by simply reading the filename, for example, dragon.gif, or by looking in the path for the file name, for example, /public/dragons/flying.gif. 
  • The engine may look for Web sites whose titles indicate the presence of pictures on a certain subject. This strategy works occasionally but relies on the existence of titles that describe content well, which is next to impossible. For example, "New Mexico Photo Gallery" tells you that you'll find images of New Mexico at the site, but it doesn't indicate whether you'll find pictures of pueblos, geologic formations native to the state, or the Santa Fe opera house. 
  • The engines might employ human intervention to seek out and catalog images. This method results in the most accurate system, but its labor-intensiveness limits the number of images that can be processed. 
  • Berinstein also wrote that an ideal image search engine would display results by showing a thumbnail, the URL of the image, the URL of the site where it resides, and some information about the image1.Most image search utilities now do this. 
Searchers focusing on Web images should also consider Daniel Amor's proposition, which expands on Berinstein: "Image search engines are using the information that accompanies a picture, such as the file name (e.g., 'href='cat.jpg''), the alternative text (e.g., 'alt='this is a picture of a cat') or the text that is next to the image ('the following image displays a cat'). As long as your search is very generic, the existing image search engines work very well.... The problem arises as soon as you search for more specific images. 'A red cat with a little ball' could be a very common request. Although it is highly unlikely that the filename will contain all this information, the alt-text may contain it and the accompanying text as well, but don't be too sure."2

Numerous image search tools exist. Some comb the Web for images, archiving thumbnails of what is found. Others partner with commercial providers and offer pictures at various pricing levels. Some services maintain their own collections that searchers may employ in various ways depending on the terms and conditions of use. If you're interested in finding an image, it should be a snap if you bookmark some of the following sites.

AltaVista Image Search

AltaVista wouldn't share the number of images it archives, but the retrieval from some eclectic searches (e.g., Baron von Richtofen, reclining Buddha, Sydney Harbor Bridge) indicated extensive coverage. Besides a thumbnail, AltaVista states the size and format of the image and links to the hosting URL. AltaVista allows users to search by color/black and white, photos, graphics, and buttons and banners. Retrieval may come from personal or commercial Web sites, or AltaVista partners such as Corbis or Rolling Stone Magazine.

Ditto delivers relevant thumbnail images and a link to the relevant sites that host the original images. If the user chooses to see a "detail view," Ditto shows filename, file size, provides a link to the original URL, and lists keywords indexing the image. The user can click on keywords for related images. Ditto says, "...we have compiled the largest searchable index of visual content on the Internet via proprietary processes, nearly 6 million thumbnails selected and evaluated from over 115 million images."


Select the "Photos" radio button. Excite has two image indexes. "Member Photos" are images posted by users. "News Photos" originate at Reuters and the Associated Press. Results of image searches may come from professional collections (free to download as wallpaper or send as an e-card, and usually accompanied by an offer to buy the photo as a poster) or free from a member of the "Webshots" community, or a news photo that usually links to a news story but cannot be freely downloaded.

FAST Multimedia Search

FAST offers an easy image search. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image with details that include file size, file format, image size, and a link to the hosting URL. Most thumbnails carry the statement: "This image is copyrighted to its rightful owner(s)." Use the Fast Advanced Multimedia search [] to narrow to file type, color/black and white, etc.

Google Image Search

Google boasts 250 million images. After you retrieve some material, just click the thumbnail to see a larger version of the image, as well as the Web page on which the image is located. From the advanced image search page (the address recommended above), you can narrow results by image size (icon-sized, small, medium, large, very large, wallpaper-sized), file type (jpg or gif), and color (black and white, grayscale, or full color). 

Like most of the search utilities, Google admonishes users that the images may be protected by copyrights. Google further states, "Although you can locate and access the images through our service, we cannot grant you any rights to use them for any purpose other than viewing them on the Web." 


Go directly to the Advanced Search, where you can specify file type, domain, page depth, and more. Type your keyword in the Word Filter ("Must Contain") box and enjoy.

Ithaki Image and Photo Metasearch

Ithaki is a metasearch tool that covers some of the Internet's well-known engines (e.g., Fast, Google, Hotbot, AltaVista, etc.) and directories (i.e., Yahoo!, Dmoz, Looksmart, etc.). The Advanced Search mode offers options such as Boolean, phrase, or natural language.


By selecting the "pictures" radio button, the searcher uses IXQUICK to metasearch AltaVista,, FAST, and Yahoo!. The only limitation with IXQUICK is although it may state it has retrieved a specific number of results, it will only show the user a small fraction of the retrieval. For example, although IXQUICK found numerous images of "Ben Stein," it displayed only "21 unique top-10 images selected from at least 875 matching results."

Lycos Multimedia Search

To limit to still images, select the "pictures" radio button. Search by keyword. A copyright notice appears with most of the photos, as does a "license professionally" link.


This search engine for pictures and images has many features which make it unique. It has a relevancy feature unrivalled on the Web due to its patent-pending indexing algorithms. Picsearch states that it has a "family friendliness" that "allows children to surf in safety as all offensive material is filtered out by our advanced filtering systems." Use the Advanced Search to limit to animations, specify size of the images retrieved, and limit to color or black and white. 


Once one of the more popular engines for young people to locate music and images, Scour is preparing a re-launch as a "legal" source of video, music, and images. Scour's Beta FAQ says this is being done to avoid $250 billion in lawsuits. Apparently Scour is trying to form content provider partnerships, and the content therefore may no longer be free.

Yahoo! Picture Gallery

The Yahoo! Picture Gallery is searchable or browseable by category. According to Yahoo!: "From the Dalai Lama to baby llamas, we have an incredible variety of pictures that you can use in a number of ways." Having a primary partnership with Corbis, most of what you retrieve from Yahoo! will come from Corbis and, therefore, limit use according to Corbis' terms and conditions. 

Big Search Engine Index to Images

If you want to save some time, you may wish to bookmark the Big Search Engine Index's link to 19 engines. Besides most of the aforementioned services, Big's links include Photo Disc [] and the Animation Factory [].

What's Wrong with This Picture?
Copyright is the biggest bugaboo in using images from the Web. If there are over a billion Web pages, and we conservatively estimate that 20 percent of them contain an image, we calculate there are over 200 million pictures out there for people to study, learn from, enjoy, and, if they fancy the notion, download. Most of the richest sites I have visited stridently declare that the images residing on their pages are not to be copied. For example, the Smithsonian Institution Office of Imaging, Printing, and Photographic Services [] boasts 15,000 images ranging from the "Star Spangled Banner" to the arrival of pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang at the National Zoo. None of them, however, can be reproduced without written permission from the Smithsonian.

The devil's advocates will postulate that the Web is a public and democratic forum, that if people post their documents, sounds, files, and graphics, those people should accept the inevitability that they will be shared. While such a position may seem logical and practical, it isn't necessarily legal. At one end of the spectrum you have people who want to drive others to their sites, and at the other end you may actually have people who feel extremely proprietary about the content on their sites. Furthermore, you may find that some people who want to build site traffic (such as professional artists and photographers) remain particularly possessive about what users do with their material. One might counter this by claiming, "It's possible to password-protect your site, write code into your pages that will avert crawlers from indexing it, place watermarks on your work, or otherwise protect it." But some authors and Webmasters riposte, "That shouldn't be necessary and we shouldn't have to do it." This seems more like obstinacy than reluctance. 

The real universe offers some parallels to the virtual universe in this regard. Retailers (that is, the physical ones we visit at the mall) have their wares in full view, yet you usually exit through portals that sense anti-theft tags. Libraries try to hang onto their collections by buying millions of strips of "Tattletape" each year. 

While taking copyright seriously, some creators/owners of copyrighted material believe that the vastness of the Web makes it difficult to apprehend perpetrators. Bob Kern, content/acquisitions manager for IN Jersey — New Jersey's Home on the Internet [], concedes that there has been unauthorized use of InJersey's content but adds, "We obviously cannot go around checking all the Internet sites in the world to see what is being used and what isn't, so there is little you can do to keep people from pulling stuff off."3

Perhaps image purveyors would be wise to more zealously protect their property. And some do. Playboy Enterprises, which in 1997 won a case of copyright infringement when defendant Webbworld was found to have "willfully infringed" by posting 62 Playboy copyrighted photos on itssite (Webbworld was penalized $5,000 per infringement for a total of $310,000)4, signed an agreement in the same year with Digimarc to place digital watermarks on images that could potentially be downloaded from Playboy's Web site. The technology is available to individual photographers for approximately $100 and runs between $800 to approximately $5,000 for corporate users. Digimarc not only sells its "ImageBridge" and "ImageBridge Pro" watermarking tools to safeguard images, but also offers the MarcSpider Image Tracker — software that can find watermarked images on the Web. Blue Spike is another company that offers digital watermarking. [See or to read more about the technology that protects images from indiscriminate hijackers.]

People copy many of the images they like and send them to friends, use them on their own sites, post them on the Usenet, add them to their presentations, and illustrate reports with them. But a strict interpretation of U.S. copyright law would admit that most of this is illegal. Without the permission of the originator of the work, proper payment, or licensing, this cornucopia of eye candy turns into a monumental tease. People who download and re-use copyrighted images from the Web without permission do so at their own risk. Although the ease with which this can be done is impressive, the mere novelty of the technology doesn't always make it right.

In 1998 the Boston Herald paid Bill Swersey, a freelance photographer, $3,500 in an out-of-court settlement that revolved around its use of a photograph that Swersey took that originally appeared at http://www.discovery.com5. A more notable case involves photographer Les Kelly and (formerly the Arriba Soft Corporation). Ditto (which searches the Web and indexes its images) successfully defended itself in December 1999 when plaintiff Kelly sued, claiming Ditto, without permission, takes thumbnails of images and places them in a searchable database. Kelly claimed that Ditto supports itself by making money on the work of others by creating the database of copyrighted work (in many cases). Mr. Kelly brought the search engine to the United States District Court where Judge Gary Taylor decided that Ditto's operations constituted "fair use."6 The plaintiff further claimed that Ditto breached the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by initially taking his images out of context and then eliminating the original copyright information on Ditto's thumbnail7. Mr. Kelly has appealed the decision to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth District. According to Steven A. Krongold (Kelly's attorney in the original case), the Appeals Court heard oral arguments on September 10, 2001. Krongold expects a decision within 6 months. The appeal's outcome and fallout will be significant in terms of what search engines themselves may legally do. Indeed some pundits feel that engines that take a snapshot of a Web page for indexing purposes are breaching copyright.

Copyright Refresher for Image Acquisition
Creators of images have cause to be concerned if someone: 

  • copies/reproduces the image without permission.
  • creates a new image derived from the original work (by, for example, distorting it).
  • sells or gives away the image.
  • displays the image in public.
The standard defense in a case of copyright infringement is to invoke the "doctrine of fair use." Fair use allows the reproduction of an image, notwithstanding the creator's rights, for purposes such as criticism, satire, news reporting, teaching, and research. In determining fair use the purpose of the copying (e.g., was it for profit?) and the effect the copying may have on the market for the original image would be considered (e.g., copying might be more permissible if unlikely to cause economic harm to the creator of the image). 

Copyright was augmented when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was signed into law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998. The DMCA addresses a number of important copyright issues with Titles I and II, the most salient concerning would-be image acquirers of copyrighted material. Title I covers circumventing technological measures used by copyright owners to protect their work; it also addresses tampering with copyright management information (such as a copyright notice). Title II creates limitations on the liability of online service providers for copyright infringement when engaging in certain types of activities such as system caching. (Remember Les Kelly, noted in Kelly v. Arriba above, claims that in taking his image out of context and eliminating his copyright management information, is at fault for copyright infringement.) [A summary of the DMCA appears at]

I have noticed that most search engines specializing in finding images, including Ditto, AltaVista, and Google, post either an overall disclaimer or a notice with each image warning searchers that images may be copyrighted and advising them to obtain permission before using a retrieved image. For example, at, Picsearch posts a rather inclusive statement that covers its own position, while helping searchers and copyright holders: 

Many of the images on the World Wide Web are protected by copyright. Although Picsearch locates and displays links to these images, Picsearch does not hold, grant, or imply permissions or licenses to use these images for any purpose. If you would like to use any images linked to from Picsearch you must contact the Webmaster or copyright holder in order to obtain the appropriate permissions to do so. Picsearch downloads the original pictures only to create thumbnail images. Afterwards the original pictures are removed. Thus, users can only access the thumbnails when searching for a specific picture. The thumbnails are accompanied by references to the original page it was indexed from. This enables the users to visit the original page and obtain the appropriate permissions to use the picture. The crawling technology employed by Picsearch follows the robots exclusion standard and the robots meta tag. If you do not wish Picsearch to index your pictures please add psbot to your robots.txt file in accordance with The Robot Exclusion Standard. If you do not have access to the robots.txt file, Picsearch also obeys the robots meta tag.

Here is some of the other language regarding "image grabbing" that I have encountered on Web sites. Notice that while some pages are strict and warn users to refrain from taking images, others are more indulgent.

From Rigby's World of Egypt []:

I receive requests every week from around the world for permission to use photographs and/or text on personal, educational, and commercial Web sites. This defeats my original purpose in having devoted considerable personal resources to create an appealing, educational site containing original content with images not found elsewhere on the Internet. Therefore, I do not grant permission for use of the Web site material on Web sites, CD-ROMs or any other form of reproduction. However, I have no objections to links being made to Rigby's World Of Egypt — preferably to the home page.

From Sunda Images, a travel photography Web site, []:

Use of images : Permission for use of images will generally be given upon notification of publication or Web page where used. All images are subject to copyright unless permission has been granted. 

From Images of American Political History []:

The intent of this collection is to support the teaching of American political history by providing quick access to uncopyrighted images for inclusion in teaching materials. All images are strongly believed to be in the public domain. They were obtained from non-copyrighted U.S. government holdings and publications and from published works with clearly expired copyrights. Thus there are absolutely no restrictions on their use. 

From University of Pennsylvania Professor Ali Ali-Dinar's K-12 Electronic Guide for African Resources on the Internet []:

These materials are available for use by students, teachers, librarians, the business community, and the general public. 

From Les Kelly's California's Gold Rush Country []:

All images and text copyrighted 1997 by Leslie A. Kelly/Les Kelly Publications. Terms of use: All content on this Web site, including all the text, graphics, photographs, data, and images, are the property of Leslie A. Kelly. Any use of suchcontent without the express written permission of the owner, including but not limited to, reproduction, modification, distribution, transmission, republication, storage or display is strictly prohibited under federal law.

From Paris Pages' Musee de Louvre []:

Up to five documents or images from the Paris Pages may be used in whole, or in part, provided the use is strictly personal, not for commercial or financial gain, attribution and a link is made to the Paris Pages, together with the words "used with permission" nearby ... you send The Paris Pages a message indicating your usage of material, and your URL.

Permit Me, S'Il Vous Plaît
Although gaining permission to use images at sites where they are apparently copyrighted yields varying degrees of success, the potential graphic user is obligated to do so. The key to copying and using the image you want is your diligence in obtaining or your good fortune in locating images at sites where permission is given in advance. The caveat in the latter case, however, is you must be confident the site creator is really the copyright holder and hasn't pirated the images himself. While preparing this article, I attempted to secure permission from several Web sites. 

Having done a search using, I located a page of photographs of the Himalayan Mountains from The Lightbox []. The page did not indicate that the site author was a commercial photographer, so I e-mailed the contact person for permission to use one of the graphics. I immediately received a response that my e-mail had been received, and shortly thereafter received another e-mail from the site's author (Simon Kirwan) saying, "Thank you for stopping by! Will be adding more countries soon!" Nothing in the note addressed my request; no prices were mentioned. Erring on the side of caution, I decided it would be unwise to use an image from Kirwan's site.

My next experience came after I was alerted to a Newseum [] exhibit ironically entitled "Capture the Moment: Pulitzer-Prize Winning-Photographs." Skeptical, I contacted Newseum's Marketing and Communications Department and asked for permission to capture one image and include it in this article. Indira Williams, an associate in the Graphic Resources, Research and News History Department, responded that if I was writing an article about the exhibit, I could use the images. If I was going to take the image out of context, I would need to get permission from the copyright holders. Because this article is not specifically about the exhibit, using the image seemed inappropriate.

While searching, I located an image of the interior of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Rome. The image is copyrighted by Professor Michael D. Calia, a professional photographer and the associate director of the Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center at Quinnipiac University. I was delighted when Prof. Calia e-mailed the following positive response after I requested to use the image: 

Dear Mr. Tomaiuolo:

Thank you for your inquiry. I would be happy to grant you permission to use one of my photographs, provided you adhere to the following restrictions:

You agree that I am licensing to you one photograph, "Leaning Tower of Pisa/Italy-Sept. 2000," for a one-time use only; that you will provide the following credit: "Photo by Michael Calia" on the page immediately below the image; that you will not sell the photograph, nor transfer the license to any other person or entity; and that you will not edit or alter the photograph in any way.

Best wishes for a successful project.

Michael D. Calia

Associate Director, 
Ed McMahon Mass 
Communications Center
and Assistant Professor of 
Communications (adjunct)

Quinnipiac University

Hamden Connecticut 06518


(203)582-5310 (fax)

This is the type of image that a student, researcher, or general computer user could acquire to complement a research paper, presentation, or online gallery. 

Types of Image Files
To effectively use the images you find, you should become familiar with some of the flavors (or file types) that images come in. There are a number of image file formats used today for various purposes. Some are designed to reproduce ultra-high-quality, 24-bit color images suitable for printing. Others are designed to result in the smallest file size possible for use over the Internet. Some serve video applications, such as animation and video editing, while others depend on particular platforms (such as Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh) or devices (Truevision's Targa video capture and display cards). The vast majority of images one finds on Web sites are saved in one of two of the most popular formats: JPEG and GIF. 


GIF is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format. It was developed by the online service CompuServe in the mid-1980s to allow the quick electronic transfer of raster graphic files that are small (highly compressed) and thus suitable for low-bandwidth transmission. GIF format files are independent of hardware and platform. GIF reduces file size partly by limiting the palette of colors it can reproduce, and so is adequate for viewing on computer monitors, but may not suit other uses that require full 24-bit, high-resolution files. Continuous-tone images, such as photographs, are not treated as kindly by the GIF format as they are by, say, JPEG, but have the virtue of being very small and therefore quick-loading when accessing them via modem over standard telephone lines. 

There are two types of GIF files: 87a and 89a. The GIF89a file format supports transparency, which means you can select a color in your image that will become transparent when reproduced on the screen. This is often used to reproduce images without the appearance of straight borders at the top, bottom, and sides. 


The Joint Photographic Experts Group lent its name to the standard it developed that describes a method of data encoding and compression used to significantly reduce the size of image files, while maintaining a reasonable level of quality. JPEG compression technology can also reduce the size of image files saved in other file formats such as TIFF, and so it serves as both a file format in its own right and a technology used to enhance the features of other formats. JPEG supports 24 bits of color data, which allows it to reproduce millions of colors. Many applications allow the user to select the amount of compression applied to the image, making it convenient and flexible for adjusting the quality of the end result.

JPEG images, with the file extension ".jpg," are platform independent and extremely common on the Internet, because the relatively high compression (anywhere from 5:1 to 15:1) allows good quality and small file sizes. Best used to preserve image quality in photographs and images with subtle variations in color, despite its "lossy" compression method. "Lossy" refers to any compression technique that actually discards some image data, so re-saving and re-compressing JPEG files will ultimately degrade the image. 


BMP, which stands for "bit-map," is a standard file format primarily used by the Microsoft Windows operating system. The format is capable of millions of colors, but has very large file sizes. Because BMP files are native to Windows, they tend not to be as common as platform-independent formats such as JPEG.


Developed by the Aldus Corporation (creators of the original PageMaker desktop publishing software) in the mid 1980s, the TIFF (Tag Image File Format) image file format was designed to serve as a standard file format for saving and transmitting high-quality images from sources such as scanners, paint and photo-editing applications, frame capture devices, etc. TIFF images can be used on different platforms such as Microsoft Windows, Apple's Macintosh, and UNIX. TIFF images can come compressed or uncompressed.

There are various "flavors" of the TIFF file format, due in part to the different compression schemes (LZW, Huffman, etc.) used to reduce file size, which means that a user can conceivably experience difficulties opening a variation of the TIFF format in a given application. But because TIFF has indeed become an "industry-standard" file format, it is generally very well supported and capable of saving high-quality images in color, grayscale, black and white, and palette-color.


The PICT format also emerged in the mid 1980s and was originally used by Apple's MacDraw image creation and editing application. It is a "loss-less" format, which means that unlike JPEG, it does not discard extraneous image data. Files therefore tend to be fairly large. The format is commonly used for video-editing, video frame capture, animation, and other video-related applications. 

[To learn more in detail about file formats check Encyclopedia of Graphics File Formats: The Complete Reference on CD-ROM with Links to Internet Resources, 2nd Edition (1996) by James D. Murray and William van Ryper.]

With images you find from commercial images vendors and, at times, through the image search engines too, you'll need to acquaint yourself with some terminology that circulates around the use of some images. Depending on the intended use of what you retrieve, you will encounter this jargon.

  • Comping — Short for "Comprehensive Rendering." "Comping" images are medium- to low-resolution images that you can use to "try out" in your layouts to see how they will look. Corbis allows individuals to use downloaded images for "comping" purposes.
  • Royalty-Free — For images purchased outright for use in any way you want. Royalty-free images are often priced based on file size; the smaller the file you purchase, the less you can do with that image (artistically), so the fee will drop. Apparently no effort is made to monitor where the images will be used.
  • Rights-Protected — For images "rented" for specific purposes at a specific price. Once you negotiate a fee with the photographer or rights-holder for the specific use you have in mind, any other use is subject to an additional fee. Theoretically, records are kept of each publication to prevent conflicts. 

Image-Rich Sites
Whether you only wish to view images or download and use them, explore some of the sites on this list. Although the list is not exhaustive, it's a good snapshot of the many excellent sites that offer images. To find these sites I performed a variety of "keyword" and "similar to" searches on Google. I also zipped over to and searched by keywords "images," "stock photos." Searchers who wish to explore more sites that offer a variety of graphics should do likewise. And, always read the FAQs or copyright statements!

American Memory at the Library of Congress

The American Memory home page declares it "is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections." LC says that some materials in the collections may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) and/or by the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations. The copy of the daguerreotype reproduced with this article was permissible to use because the copyright information included with it said: "The Library of Congress is not aware of any restrictions on these photographs."


By searching Artcyclopedia you not only retrieve images, but also receive a list of links to collections on the Web with more related images. For example, a search of "John Singer Sargent" provided one image and a list of other Sargent exhibitions that contain more of his works.

This comprehensive, yet easy-to-navigate site features 40 main sections with over 600 subheadings. The photographs are free to private, noncommercial users and for sale to commercial users. contains over 20,000 images with new pictures added every week.


A moderate collection of images that can be used, according to the site's FAQ, for some personal and commercial purposes (such as Web sites), but not redistributed.

Free Images and Free Stock Photos

These images are free as long as the user doesn't redistribute them to others. The site says "spread the URL, not the files!"

A minor gold mine. Here you can download stock photographs absolutely free. Not just royalty-free. Use in any Web site or publication you wish — personal or commercial. Use without any royalty, use fee, or cost of any kind. Users must credit the source by domain name and may not crop out a credit if it appears on a photograph. 

Thinker Image Database

Launched in 1996, the Thinker Image Database represents over 110,000 objects from the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Personal use is not mentioned under "Use of Images," which says, "Any commercial use of images or requests for publishable-quality copies of images must be arranged through our Photo Services office." Recommended: Go to "Advanced Search" and use the fielded search options.

Image Services Requiring Payment

Art Today

Unlimited access to over 1,500,000 clipart images, animations, photos, fonts, and sounds. Subscriptions are available for periods of 1 week, 3 months, 6 months, and annual. Sample rates: $7.95 per week, $153.40 per year. The database is easy to search. A FAQ states: "Feel free to use ArtToday content in commercial or noncommercial projects to create Web pages, T-shirts, posters, book covers, art, advertising, newsletters, presentations, logos ... you name it! There are no per-image costs, royalties, or extra payments for ArtToday's content when you follow the Usage Guidelines below. We make it easy for you to use our files for virtually any purpose — except to compete with us."


The other company that Bill Gates owns, Corbis has acquired the rights to over 23 million images and photographs. The gallery is open to professionals and other end-users for free searching and e-cards, but only payment of a fee will allow downloading of images without the Corbis watermark. Corbis's terms allow users to download one copy on a single computer for personal, noncommercial use (such a copy would bear the Corbis watermark).

Getty Images

A hub of access to over 200,000 images, some royalty-free and some rights-protected. Pricey and for professionals. 


Includes directory categories for Animated GIFs, Clip Art, Icons, Wallpapers, and Photos. This is a commercial site. By searching it you will retrieve thumbnails and have an opportunity to buy the image, visit the creator's site, or find copyright information about the image. The GoGraph FAQ states: "For personal purposes, you may use the images found on GOgraph's Web site and include a limited number of those image(s) on a personal, non-commercial Web site."


Provides rights-protected and royalty-free imagery serving graphic designers, ad agencies, corporations, and small businesses. Customers can search and preview the entire image collection, and purchase and download royalty-free images 24/7. Good-quality royalty-free images begin at $49. Rights-protected images are also available. "Comping" images (which most people are doing when they right-click their mouse and save a file) is free at Imagestate. 


Although image search engines do an adequate job of identifying relevant graphics for users to view and manipulate, developments that support more precise searching are inevitable. But searchers shouldn't have any problem finding the images they want. The only problems that may arise will occur when users decide what they want to do with the images they have found. The Les Kelly v. Ditto (Arriba) case is worth following for those tracking the legal perspective toward the use of images from the Web [see for updates]. Notwithstanding the outcome of Kelly's appeal, there are still plenty of terrific images out there to view and use! 
Image Is Everything

Image search engines that crawl the Web have two goals: finding pictures while trying to discern exactly what those pictures show. How do the engines do it? Let's take a look.

When a search spider crawls the Web, it is looking for image files—files that have .jpg and .gif extensions. When a spider finds a probable hit, it generates a tiny copy of the image.

Next the image is scanned by software that will analyze it by dimension, pattern, and number of colors. After the analysis is completed, unwanted images (i.e., banner ads) are filtered out by the software.

In the next step, the software examines the image's file name, any text that comes with the image, the text used by other pages to use to the image, and alt-text tags—hidden text descriptions. This enables the software to categorize the images so the images can be made keyword-identifiable.

All this happens so that when a user does a search, the search engine can not only post a thumb-nail of the image, it can link to the image's Web site.

How To 'grab' an image from the web

Having obtained permission, paid for, or having found uncopyrighted/public domain material here are two slick ways to copy an image from the World Wide Web:

On a conventional PC:

1. Using your mouse, click the right mouse button. 

2. In Netscape, click "Save Image As." (In Explorer, click "Save Picture As.")

3. You will be prompted with a default filename (which you may change). Under the filename a default file type will usually appear with the appropriate file extension.

4. Select the destination in which you desire to save the image, and click SAVE.

On a Macintosh

1. Point your cursor over the image.

2. Click down and hold the mouse button, wait for options.

3. Select "Save this image as."

4. Release the mouse button (dialogue box will open).

5. Select Desired location.

6. Rename the file if desired.

7. Click SAVE.



1. Berinstein, Paula, "The Big Picture," Online, vol. 22, no. 3, May-June 1998, pp. 37-42.

2. Amor, Daniel, The E-Business (R)Evolution, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall, 2000, pg. 209.

3. Cohen, Jodi B., "Cyberspace Is Like Wild West for Copyright Law," Editor & Publisher, vol. 129, no. 51, December 21, 1996, pg. 22.

4. "Web Site Held Liable for Offering Photos Copyrighted By Playboy." Intellectual Property Litigation Reporter, July 16, 1997, pg. 8

5. Noack, David, "$3,500 to Freelance Photographer for Image Taken from Web," Editor & Publisher, vol. 13, issue 24, June 13, 1998, p. 13.

6. Slind-Flor, Victoria, "Thumbnail Not Even a Tiny Infringement," National Law Journal, vol. 22, issue 15, December 6, 1999, pg. B7.

7. Berinstein, Paula, "Image Search Engines and Copyright," Online, Vol. 23, issue 6, November/December 1999, pg. 91. 

Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo's e-mail address is
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