The problem with Pixabay

Providing a platform that enables users to share their images with the world is great. Pixabay (like many similar platforms) does just that: It’s a platform that lets users publish images under the CC0 license. The images can be downloaded and used for free by anyone for any purpose — no attribution or permission required. So, what is the problem?

Pixabay does more than let users post their pictures: They actively source pictures from other sites on a large scale. A user called “Unsplash” (incidentally the name of a similar website) has posted more than 9,000 photos. I asked Unsplash whether they posted the photos to Pixabay, they denied and went straight to the point:

Posting all images as “Unsplash” does not give others the possibility to give credit to the photographer who took the image and posted it to the original source. Legally, Pixabay is not required to give or enable others to give credit to the creator. However, Pixabay is profiting from the traffic these images generate (some 14,000,000 downloads in the case of “Unsplash”) since they are placing ads on the site.

Sponsored images are shown to finance Pixabay and to provide a choice of professional photos. Those images are marked with the Shutterstock logo. (Pixabay FAQ)

Crediting the creators of the content that finances or helps finance your site should go without question. Unsplash does credit the photographers and so do other sites that source images from Unsplash (e.g. So, Pixabay: Give credit where credit is due.

A few numbers (mid Jan. 2017)

The “Unsplash” account …

  • … has “posted” 9,175 photos
  • … has “posted” 10 of the 20 most downloaded photos
  • … has “posted” 6 of the 10 most favorited photos

The 9,175 photos have accumulated …

  • … 174,192 favorites

Update Nov. 2017

Pixabay has recently renamed the “Unsplash” account to “Free Photos” ( will redirect you to It looks like this change was made in late August or September. This makes it near impossible to find the creator of an image on that account, since not even the original source of that photo is visible anymore.

I should mention (and should have mentioned in my original post) that there are many other accounts like the “Unsplash” – now “Free-Photos” – one. There is a “Pexels” account [9,174 photos], a “PublicDomainPictures” account [18,042 photos], a “Clker-Free-Vector-Images” account [29,611 photos], the list goes on and on. None of these thousands of photos can be traced back to the creator.

Lets take a look at some updated numbers in order to give this some context.

A few numbers (early Nov. 2017)

The “Unsplash”/“Free-Photos” account …

  • … has “posted” 9,123 photos (down 52 total, -0,57%)
  • … has “posted” 7 of the 20 most downloaded photos (down from 10/20)
  • … has “posted” 6 of the 10 most favorited photos (no change)

The 9,123 photos have accumulated …

  • … 49,297,307 views (up 15,930,894 total, +47,75%)
  • … 20,838,969 downloads (up 5,702,419 total, +37,67%)
  • … 273,038 favorites (up 98,846 total, +56,75%)
  • … 177,564 likes (up 57,180 total, +47,50%)
  • … 18,115 comments (up 3,302 total, +22,29%)