Using copyright free content on your site is a smart economic move. These days, any buck saved is a valuable buck indeed. That being said, be sure you understand the nature of what you can and can't do with copyright free content.
First off, let's make sure we understand what is being discussed when we say "copyright free". Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It conveys to the author of "works" the right to exclusively use those works. The author also has the option of licensing those works to another in exchange for something - usually a royalty. Copyrightable works include a host of things, but the most common range from books to magazine articles to software code and images.
Traditionally, the only time one could use a copyrighted work without paying a royalty was when the copyright expired. That's roughly 90 years, which makes the timing a bit of a stretch. The web changed all that. The idea of creating free works just for the pure joy of it came to the forefront. Today, we find a host of free content used all over the web...perhaps even on the site you are looking at now.
Using copyright free content is, of course, perfectly fine. That being said, the "free" element of the content is not absolute in most cases. The creator of the works doesn't mind if every Tom, Dick and Harry uses it, but is going to have a problem if Nike picks it up and uses it in an advertising campaign. Would Nike do such a thing? No, but it highlights the issue of the copyright license.
Every copyright work comes with a license. When you use a copyright free work, make sure you read the license. Why? It will prohibit certain uses in commercial applications. If you do violate that license, you could be sued for a ton of money. That obviously would not be a good result.
Let's look at an example. Let's say I am looking for a free image for my site. I head over to a stock photo site and find something I like. I download it for free and post it on my site. I like the image so much that I crop it and then make it part of my logo. Two years down the line, my site turns into the next Facebook and I am making money hand over fist. My logo is being seen by million...including the person who created the original picture. If I had read the license for the photo, I would've realized the use of it for commercial works was barred. Since I didn't, I am going to be sued for a bundle of money and I am going to lose. "Copyright free" suddenly isn't so free after all!
When using free content off the web, you must understand the free classification comes with restrictions. Read the license to understand where the line is drawn and make sure you don't cross it.
Gerard Simington writes articles about internet law for FindAnAttorneyforMe.com.