Do Unsplash Photos Have Viruses?

Stock photo sites are everywhere these days, and their rise brought numerous rumors with them. While these rumors are often based on truth, they usually exaggerate the situation, obscuring the truth in the process. For instance, many people claim that photos from Unsplash contain viruses.

Generally, Unsplash photos do not contain viruses, but that does not mean that every photo you get from there is clean. This is true for every stock photo service as well as any other file you download off the internet. Your best bet is to obtain your photos from a known reliable source.

Even if Unsplash photos are virus-free, you may still want to avoid using them. By reading further, you will learn the issues you could face from using their photos as well as a few better alternatives.

Do Stock Photos from Unsplash Contain Malware?

Photo files seem harmless. They appear to only contain photos and other images. However, these files can and often contain much more. While most of the time this content is nothing more than the metadata for the photos, they can be avenues for viruses and malware as well. This is especially true for photos you download from internet sites such as Unsplash.

Unsplash and other stock photo sites provide countless stock photos you can use in your projects. Depending on the site, you can use these stock photos for commercial purposes or otherwise modify them into your creations. As such, they are a popular resource for journalists, video creators, and other publishers.

However, these sites rarely produce the photos themselves. Instead, they acquire them from third-party photographers who post their work to these sites for exposure, as an income source, or both. It is these third-party agents that can lead to problems when using a sight like Unsplash.

Photos Can Have Viruses

While Unsplash and other stock photo providers constantly inspect their offerings, they cannot catch everything that moves through their system. As such, it is possible to find pictures on them that do contain viruses and other malware. This malware can hide in any part of the photo including the image itself, any included audio track, or embedded as a backdrop disturbance.

Fortunately, you cannot receive or send a virus directly through an image file. Image files are not executables. So, there is nothing to activate the virus. However, they can infect your computer if something like a library or database processes the files.

Anything You Download Can Have Viruses

Still, it is always a good idea to check everything you download for malware. Unsplash may or may not have a vetting process for its photographers, but they are not the only site afflicted with such problems.

Any collection site will likely have a virus or two in its database. All that matters is if you trust the site enough to catch most of the issues, then have your computer do the rest.

Other Reasons to Not Use Unsplash

When using photos from a service such as Unsplash, viruses should be the least of your concerns. While these sites allow you to use thousands of photos in your projects, they might not own all the rights that allow you to do so, ‘Free Use’ might not always mean free.

Improperly using stock photos is one of the easier ways to commit a crime and not even know it. That is because sites like Unsplash rarely pay photographers for the photos. While the exposure is great, most photographers sign up with the service believing that they would get royalties from the revenue Unsplash makes through advertisements and other licensing agreements.

Unsplash gives you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to:

  • Download
  • Copy
  • Modify
  • Distribute
  • Perform
  • Use photos from their library for free

However, they often do so without permission. Therefore, using these photos might be an infringement on someone else’s copyright. This can happen in multiple ways though it is usually just people uploading stock photos they do not own to the service. Because the site obscures the source for these photos, there is no way to know if a photo should be there or not.

Because the service lets you use the photos without providing credit, these photographers fail to even get the exposure they were promised. To make matters worse, Unsplash continues to “delay” their promised “remove” feature that would end these issues.

Use Alternatives to Unsplash When Possible

While things are bad for photographers, they offer legal indemnification to their users either. They claim their photos are legal to use but will not defend you in case someone sues you for them. Therefore, you should choose an alternative solution that properly works with photographers to ensure legal compliance such as Placeit.


There are many reasons to not use stock photos from Unsplash, but viruses are not one of them. Instead, you are more likely to have legal issues from the use of their content. As such, you may want to use an alternative regardless if their photos have viruses.