When you need a photo for your personal website, school project or for work, the chances are that you use Google Images, Google’s image search site. But did you know that using the images you find in Google, or any other image search engine, could land you in a lot of trouble for copyright infringement?
Search engines are designed to crawl the web and present relevant web pages based on what you are looking for. Image search works in much the same way whereby search engines will match images based on your requirements, taken from all over the internet. However, the vast majority of the images are subject to copyright and should therefore not be used without the consent of the copyright holder.
Not all images will be subject to copyright and many copyright holders will allow free use of their images. However, some images will be subject to specific licence models and rights are regularly enforced. There are variations in copyright law depending on jurisdiction. The US, for example, have a fair use policy that allows the use of copyrighted images for personal use, school projects etc. However, most agree that breaching copyright is essentially stealing intellectual property and using copyrighted images for commercial activity or profit can lead to heavy fines.
I’m not saying that images found through Google should never be used, but it is important to consider the potential risks and be able to identify when images can be used safely and when images should be left alone. It is recommended, at the very least, that you request permission from the rights holder which is usually done by contacting the website hosting the images. Some websites also have copyright statement which may explicitly permit certain use, or prevent use entirely.
If you decide that using Google is simply not worth the risk then there is another low-cost option. By using images from stock photography libraries you know exactly where you stand. When you purchase stock photos, or even stock footage, you pay a small fee for a license. Two common licensing models include royalty-free and rights managed. Royalty-free is usually fairly low-cost and allows unlimited usage. The rights managed license is usually more expensive and comes with restrictions. In both cases the copyright remains with the content creator, but you as a licensee have a right to use the images.
Search engines used to be much more proactive in warning users about copyright infringement, but with reduced awareness many people are now unaware that they are breaching copyright. Copyright holders are nonetheless able to enforce their rights so hopefully this article will help you make the right decisions when sourcing images.