Many of you have blogs, websites, or social media channels on which you’re posting on a regular basis. Good on ya. Those are are huge parts of marketing these days. And when you do post content, it’s usually a great idea to include a photo or other image along with the text to help deliver your message or, at the very least, make it more appealing to the eye. But, what images can you legally use?
If I find a photo in a Google search, isn’t it free?
This is a very common misconception, that because a photo pops up on a Google search and it’s easy to download to your computer, surely it’s free to use. Uh, no. Just like text (and other) content that Google (and other search engines) find and index, it’s there for you to enjoy, but not take. Think about your written content. You want it found by searchers on Google, but you don’t want them using it for their own purposes, do you? Same goes for any photos you may have snapped.
People do get in trouble for this. Even if you think your use of an image you’ve found is “innocent,” if you haven’t legally purchased it, copyright laws do apply. And don’t think that there’s no way you’ll get caught, even if you’re “just a little website.” Digital images can (and do) get imprinted with tracking codes, so the producer can find where they’ve ended up. Sorry for the fear-mongering, but you don’t want to get hit with a lawsuit for hundreds or thousands of dollars simply because of ignorance.
So where do you find images that you can use, at a reasonable cost? There are several stock photo sites out there – I won’t name them here – that offer legal-to-use images for as low as a few dollars each. When you think about the work that goes into taking, editing, and uploading these images, it’s not really a huge price to pay for that peace of mind.
When you do purchase, there are essentially two usage types you should know:
Royalty-free images are not “free” per se, but you do get nearly unlimited usage of them. There are usually no restrictions on how, where, or for how long you use the image, but read the licensing agreement to be sure. One caveat is that you’re not allowed to resell the image itself.
As the name implies, there are restrictions to the usage of these images, so definitely be sure to check the licensing agreement to make sure they suit your needs.
Are there truly free images I can use?
Yes, if you look hard enough, you can find photos that people specify are free for use. Sometimes people just do this out of the goodness of their hearts and ask for nothing in return, except, sometimes, a credit to them. As you might expect, the quality of free images is hit and miss. You get what you pay for.
Creative Commons Licenses
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides licenses to image producers, allowing them to decide which rights they own and which they are willing to waive. Again, check these rights before using these images.
I hope this has helped to clear up some common misconceptions about photo and other image usage. Food for thought next time you prepare a blog post or tweet…