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Using Google Images? A Word of Caution

Copyright Google Images

How many times have you searched Google Images for a picture to use along with your blog post or website?

Many people do that and you can’t blame them- I mean Google Images stocks countless photos of every type, to be used in ever possible context, so naturally people will use it as a resource.

But have you ever considered that it could be illegal to use pictures that were taken by someone else?

This is what some bloggers or content creators have a hard time swallowing: It doesn’t matter if you grab a cheap lousy photo of Omaha possibly taken by a drunken college student with their camera phone, if someone else took the photo, you could be sued for using it.

How One Company Was Ordered To Pay Almost $8,000 For Using Google Images

Not too long ago a picture was posted on a popular blog alongside an article about finding great deals in Omaha.

The picture itself wasn’t particularly impressive and few people read the article but still, three months after the blog was posted, The Content Factory (a web content agency) received an email from an attorney who specializes in image copyright infringement.

Apparently, the not-so-interesting blog post- and the picture next to it- had attracted the attention of the person who took the picture in the first place.

The individual who took the picture had conducted a quick search online to find out if any of their pictures were being used without their permission, and just like that, the Omaha photo attracted a $8,000 lawsuit.

Like many people who find themselves in such a situation, there’s always the assumption that before anyone could be sued for using copyrighted images the offender has to ignore a request to pull it down.

But of course this is not the case, and even after multiple pleas to replace the image and apologize to the client, The Content Factory still had to pay $3,000.

The settlement was negotiated from $8,000 and even though the $5,000 drop was a huge save on the blog’s part, it still pains the owner that they lost $3,000 to such a trivial offense. Read the full press release here.

This is actually not the first time I’ve heard about these horror stories.

Where Does The Law Stand in Regard to Using Copyrighted Images?

You will be financially liable for posting a copyrighted image even if:

  • It happened by accident
  • You took down the image immediately when you got a DMCA takedown notice
  • The picture is resized
  • You never claimed the photo was yours
  • You operate a non-profit site and made no money from the image
  • You embed the picture as opposed to saving it on your server
  • You add a disclaimer on your website
  • Link back to the image source and cite the owner’s name

What’s The Alternative To Using Google Images?

The law doesn’t care if you used the picture innocently or with good intentions. If you break infringement laws you could be liable for thousands of dollars, whether or not you made any money off the picture.

It can happen to anyone so here are my tips on using images:

1. Take Your Own Photos

A Photo I Took

When you take your own photos, you are the sole owner of the photos. You set the rights. In addition, you’ll end up with original images that no one else has (great in Google’s eyes).

These days you don’t need to be a professional photographer to take good photos. Most cameras and even your cell phone can take pictures that are more than enough to use for your site or product.

The next time you go out, be sure to start taking some photos to stock up. It could be a skyscaper or something as simple as a close-up of a pencil. You’d be surprised how handy the photos will come.

The best part about it all is that it cost you nothing.

Oh, and by the way, I took the above photo not too long ago πŸ˜‰

2. Buy Stock Images

My favorite stock image site is DepositPhotos.com. They are a heck of a lot cheaper than sites like iStockPhoto and BigStockPhoto, and have just as much photos.

Just like anything else, make sure you do your due diligence and read their terms and conditions, image rights, etc. You are only supposed to use the same image once. If you want to use the image for another piece of content, you need to re-purchase the same image. It sounds weird, but you either follow their rules or they’re going to start following you.

3. Use Flickr Creative Commonsflickr-creative-commons

Another great way to find images to use is to head to Flickr’s Creative Commons section.

Flickr’s a great way to find images of all sorts as it’s a web 2.0 driven social media site, in other words, users of Flickr upload their images to the site for others to view and/or use.

There’s just one small drawback with using Flickr: attribution may be required. You may need to give proper credit for use of the images. This can easily be done by placing something like “Photo credit: John Smith”, and simply link the name to his/her Flickr profile.

There are four different “rights” they provide, each depending on what the user sets: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works and Share Alike. You can go to Flickr for an explanation.

Nonetheless, it’s a great place to start if you don’t want to take your own photos or purchase stock images.

Any Others?

Getty Images (owners of several popular stock image sites) recently announced that it will allow free use of all its images using their new “embed tool” as long as it’s for noncommercial use, which doesn’t really help us Internet marketers.

To Wrap Things Up…

This post was not intended to scare you or to make you avoid using images all together, but it’s to inform you so you can use some caution when it comes to using Google Images or any stock photography in general. Just think of it as a “heads up”.

With that said, I hope I did give you the “heads up” on this topic.

What are you thoughts on this subject?

Do you think people should at least be sent a warning instead of being hit by an immediate penalty?

Do you think it might be leaning towards a revenue-raising scheme? I mean, $8,000 is a hefty fine don’t you reckon?

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. Was very impressed with this article. Did not realize what problems could arise even though you thought you were sure that everything was fine.
    This was a great article on photo knowledge and the use of downloaded photos from the net.

  2. Thank you for this cautionary tale. I think i will print out press release as a reminder to myself to always be careful with photos. I didn’t know that legally they can still sue you even if you take down the photo so I will have to go review my photos to make sure I have a folder for photosbought (from royaltyfree sites) and photosmine. I use qualitystockphotos.com from Kozzi.com as it is reasonable though the photos are not as exceptional or varied as iStock. Compliment on your strawberries photo, nicely lit and it looks like I will have to get a studio lighting setup to take some of my own!

    1. Yes, I thought if you’re only using images for personal use, you’d be fine, but after much research it turns out that that’s not always the case. I haven’t tried those stock image sites. The photo I took was actually taken in direct sunlight πŸ™‚

  3. I reckon :-)!

    If anyone uses freelancers or outsources any of their work, check on the images your freelancer uses for you. Not all freelancers are on the up-and-up (most are), and it’s common for those who are not on the up-and-up to take shortcuts. I know many instances where a business owner outsourced the copywriting for their website to a freelancer only to be hit with a ‘cease and desist’ order from another business owner becasue the freelancer copied his website text.

    A good rule of thumb is that if the freelancer’s fees are cheap, then be on the lookout for copyright infringement.

    1. Thanks for sharing your tips. It’s not only with images, it is also with texts as well. Plagiarism is common so it’s always good to hire a writer who’s got a good track record.

  4. Hi Aurelius,

    I do agree with you that fined is extremely over the top, but I do thank you for the heads up.

    Also I do believe that they you should give you a warning!!

    So Aurelius have a nice day and thanks again.


  5. Thanks for addressing this, and getting this important dialogue going, but I would disagree a bit with this:

    “Many people do that and you can’t blame them- I mean Google Images stocks countless photos of every type, to be used in ever possible context, so naturally people will use it as a resource.”

    Don’t people realize that Google images is just a search for images on the web, related to a search term, NOT a set of images that Google “stocks”, to be used? When you click an image, it even shows you the website it came from, and there’s a message that the image may be subject to copyright. So, you do a Google search for a term, then you can refine your search for videos, images, blogs, forums, etc., related to that search term, but you do not have the right to use the websites, videos, images, blogs, forums, etc., as your own content for your sites. (An obvious exception–you can embed a youtube video on your site, according to the youtube terms and conditions. But if you download the video, and then upload it to your site, not using youtube, then that’s the same kind of violation as just taking an image from someone else’s site and using it as yours.)

    As you might guess, I’ve had my images used without permission a few times, and yes, it upsets me. Especially the ones that don’t respond when I politely ask them to take it down. However, when I eventually contact their web host, they seem to magically make time to “deal with me”. So, I can understand imposing fines, especially if it has happened to a site a lot. It takes up their time and resources to deal with all the instances of unauthorized use. Oh yeah, and in several instances, it was a competitor that stole my images, that I paid for.

    Donna offers some good advice about being careful with freelancers. The graphics design artist I used in the past always included the copyright information, and source, for the images she used in my design work. That’s a standard all freelancers should adopt. The photographer/artist of the original images generally retains copyright, but if you pay for a use of the image, (such as for an ecover), you get to claim copyright, on your site(s), for your use of that image.

    As far as it being a revenue raising scheme, you might ask yourself if the other website owners asked offenders to download their images, and use without permission? Still, yeah, demanding thousands of dollars without even a warning may seem kind of harsh, even if they are within their legal rights to do so.

    1. Hi Andrea. People do realize that some of the images are copyrighted but they do it anyway, not knowing the consequences, hence the reason why I wrote this blog. To some people, it’s just not common sense.

      >> However, when I eventually contact their web host, they seem to magically make time to β€œdeal with me”.

      Yes, that’s what I would normally do if I found my content being copied. I would 1) Contact the domain registrar and 2) Their web host about copyright violation. They can take down the site as they don’t want to be liable in the end.

      Thanks a lot for leaving your comment.

  6. Very good advice Tim. I have cautioned people (and clients) for years not to use images from places like Goggle.

    One of the sources I use from time to time is http://www.freeimages.com/. But you still have to use common sense and caution. When using images even at freeimages, never use ones featuring people or businesses.

    Thanks for sharing the info,


  7. Thank you so very much for the time it took to write this for all us beginners and unknowledgeable people!! I always thought if we posted pictures of ours on FB, they should be ours, but aren’t. So assumed that all pics were a free for all to use.

    Your information is extremely important and correct.

    Thank you!

    Vicki Curry-Coach

    1. You’re welcome, Vicki. If you post on Facebook, they do not hold copyright as stated in the terms. You are solely responsible with what you upload.

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