3 Reasons why you should never use pictures from Google on your website, Facebook posts or paid ads.

It is all too easy. You need a picture for your next business promo to use on your website & Facebook. You go to Google and type “smiling dog” and et voilà! Up pops 11 million photos. Some of them are just perfect for promoting your event. You right click or tap & hold, save the image and before you know it you are designing away at your next eye-breaking advert.

Sounds too good to be true right? Unfortunately that’s because it is!

Those pictures are not free for the taking and belong to someone. By using them you are running a real risk of getting into a heap of legal trouble.   DO NOT get me started with people who actually use photos that still have the premium photo service watermark on them – no, just no, no no! It looks extremely bad (using nice words as this is a family friendly blog) not to mention lazy, cheap, unethical and just….NO. Stop it.

It is easier to get caught than you think.

Did you know that you anyone can perform a Google “Reverse Image Search”? Basically, you can upload any photo, click on search and wham! Google shows you all other websites that use the same images. Photographers can thank me later. https://reverse.photos/

Unless you can confirm otherwise, it is safest to assume that all images found on Google (or any other search engine) are protected by copyright law.

The cost when caught is steep.

The interwebs is full of stories about bloggers & websites that found themselves in legal hot water for using images not belonging to them. You could be ordered to pay thousands for a picture that would have cost you a couple of bucks or had gained permission to use beforehand.

You are liable, not your Online Marketing Agency.

Even if your Marketing Agency was the culprit and uploaded the image to your website, you are the one responsible for the content on your site. Hopefully your Online Marketing Agency will understand copyright law and abide by it – if not, change agency as soon as possible because they are putting you at risk. Immediately go and replace your photos with ones you know to be free of copyright.

Have you noticed how many moms would like to stick a superhero logo or Disney character on 30 T-Shirts for their angel’s next birthday party? The same rules apply for physical and branded products. The agency normally needs to pay royalties to the registered trademark owner.

There are many myths floating around about what would remove your liability when using copyright protected images. I did some research in order to put a few (ok many) rumours to rest. The following does NOT relieve you from liability.

    • Attributing the photo to the original photographer/illustrator in the caption
    • Linking the photo back to the original source
    • Making changes to the copyrighted image
    • Only using the image on social media
    • Placing a disclaimer on your website stating that you don’t own any of the photos and that all rights belong to the original creator
    • Embedding the photo into your website using the original source URL instead of hosting it on your server
    • Uploading a smaller-version/thumbnail of the image
    • Using an image that doesn’t have a copyright symbol or watermark on it. The lack of copyright notice does not indicate that the image is free to use.
    • Taking the image down immediately following a legal DMCA notice. Taking the image down is necessary but does not remove your liability.

What can you do?

You could enlist the services of an Online Marketing Agency who usually have a subscription and permission to use thousands of beautiful high-resolution images legally (or they know where to find them). It will also save you a ton of time trawling the net for free to use images.   If you are not able to pursue that avenue here are a couple of tips:

1. Take your own photos! You will build much more credibility with your audience. If you keep using the supermodel versions of foodie shots, your customer’s expectations will be very high and you will almost always let them down when they see the real deal. Use photos of the real deal!

2. Find free photos – there are many websites that tout copyright free images. Start with a Google search for “Free images” – and sort through the noise to build up a few resources.

The bottom line is, unless you have received explicit (and written) permission from the copyright holder, do not use random photos you find on the Internet. It’s a recipe for disaster and not worth the hassle, time, or cost.

Written by Piérre Maré

Written by Piérre Maré

CEO PortKey Solutions

I am your local digital marketing specialist (geek with uncommon interpersonal skills). I specialise in helping businesses & brands connect with their customers by enhancing their online presence through integrated marketing strategies including social media, email, mobile, content creation, paid ads & customer relationship management.

With over 12 years of sales & marketing experience built up working with blue chip organisations (whilst I resided in the UK), I love helping businesses & brands grow by leveraging ever-changing online marketing channels.