This cannot be stressed enough: You must either use your own images, images that are copyright-free, or secure the written permission of the copyright owner for the precise use you will make of their image(s).
GOOGLE IS A NOT A SOURCE FOR LEGAL, USABLE IMAGES.
Can you get away with using an image you download from the internet with no regard to copyright ownership for your graphics? Possibly, but it is really not worth the risk, and POV Press will not knowingly work with anyone who does so. If you cannot clearly tell us where an image is from and how you have permission to use it, your project will not go forward.
The United States Copyright Office has resources to help average citizens understand what is, and is not, considered “Fair Use” (legal use) of images. This includes specifics on how long copyrights last and under what circumstances copyrighted images may, or may not, be used. (Blog usage is not considered fair use, even if it’s an educational blog.) In short, why your kid can use a copyrighted image in a book report, but you can’t use it for the cover of a book you are selling.
What are some solid sources for images? IF you are a good enough photographer with a high quality camera, you can use your own images. You own the copyright to them, although you cannot use images of other people where you can see an individual clearly enough to identify them without their written permission (a model release). Written permission protects you in the event that they later change their mind, as has happened on Creative Commons.
Anything, print or other media, that was created prior to 1922 is out of copyright and no longer has copyright protection. It is free for use. Other, newer media may have “lapsed” copyrights. That means either the person or company that owned the copyright has ceased to exist and no took over their copyright or that they needed to do something to retain copyright and failed to do so, letting it lapse.
The most famous example of a lapsed copyright is the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. In 1975, someone failed to file a copyright renewal for it. Once the copyright lapsed, the movie went into the public domain, TV channels and networks could show it without paying anything to, or asking any permission from, the original owner – and they did. This turned a little-watched movie into a constantly-run Christmas Classic. After 20 years, and due to another copyright case, Republic Pictures was able to regain their copyright. As a result, the movie doesn’t play nearly as often as it once did.
That example is included only to show that even in large companies, copyrights can lapse. And also that sometimes, people regain the rights to copyrights which were lapsed. This is why keeping proof that you have the legal right to use images and anything else subject to copyright is so critical.
If there is an image that you want to use and you cannot determine who owns the copyright, you still need to spend some effort searching and retain the proof of that search. That way, if the copyright owner finds out and gets upset, you have proof that you made a good-faith effort to find them.
There are many reputable sites where you can purchase limited rights to use images. Be certain that you purchase the correct rights for what you will be using the images for. If it will be on a blog post, you need far less than if it will be a book cover. Again, it is not worth the small savings to purchase cheaper usage rights and be sued later.
Copyright Free Images
Yes, they exist. No, you can’t assume images – any images – are copyright free. Even on the sites listed here, while most images are copyright free, there are restrictions in terms of listing the source and there are some images with restricted rights. In those cases, it is generally clearly listed with information for who the copyright owner is and how to contact them to request permission.
If you choose to use a copyright-free image, this means the image is in the public domain. That means that when your book copyright is registered, the cover (and any other images you used) cannot be copyrighted, unless it has been manipulated / altered enough to constitute a new piece of artwork. The registration will specifically note that the cover art is in the public domain. If this is a concern for you, then this is not a good option for you.
We have three pages of sources for you to start your search. One is Stock and other purchasable images. Two pages are full of government agencies, and most of their images (most, not all) are free. They are divided into Art, Nature, and Travel, and Everything Else.