The internet is a beautiful place. Where else could you go to get all your questions answered and resources provided? As business owners, it’s easy to feel like you have the world at your fingertips just by having this thing called the internet. But hold up! With great power comes great responsibility and there are a lot more rules out there than you know.
As business owners, we want to save money and still have a brand that touches our customers. For that we need images. High-quality, large format photos aren’t always easy to come by. Because of that, we look through Google Images hoping to find something that will work for us and use in our marketing. There’s only one problem with that; it’s not legal. As soon as a person creates something a Copyright is applied giving the creator full rights to their creation. The author alone has the right to reproduce, create derivative works, distribute and publicly display their work throughout their lifetime and 25 years after. There are limitations to this when it comes to employing a person (not hiring a freelance photographer such as a wedding, portrait or commercial photographer who only shoots for you once.)
The thing with copyright laws is it will end up costing you a lot more for that free photo then it would have for you to hire a photographer or take the time to find royalty-free images (copyrighted images that do not require a licensing fee.) In many cases, copyright infringement goes unnoticed. In the few cases that it is caught, here's how it will break down. First, the owner of the copyrighted material will reach out asking for credit and or a licensing payment. Next, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) will be notified asking to have the photo taken down. If the DMCA finds that you are using copyrighted material, they have permission to remove it from your website. Next, you'll receive a cease and desist Letter. If the images are still not paid for or taken down a copyright infringement lawsuit is put in place. In both the asking for a licensing fee, usually raised 3X the original price for infringing the copyright, or the lawsuit you'll end up paying an amount that's sure to break the bank. Now, don't you wish you bought photos that matched your brand and didn't come with this hassle?
Google Images, while limited, does have royalty free images. Under the settings tab you’ll find “Usage Rights” with a few different options; “Labeled For Reuse” will keep you covered no matter who you are. If you’re a company wanting to use these images commercially (On your website, in your marketing, etc.) the “Labeled For Reuse” is your safest option. Better than Google (who knew that was a thing?) are the royalty-free stock image sites. Websites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay provide images to the public at no cost without the requirement of giving authorship.
“More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, non-exclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.”
Photographers from around the world upload their works to these sites offering people a way to enhance their brand. The images on these sites, while incredible are limiting in what content you’ll find and are free to use by everyone, you’ll often see these photos on other people’s Instagram, social ads, etc.
Copyright law is pretty simple. If you didn’t create it, you didn’t buy it, and you can’t find the specific permissions to use it, you probably shouldn’t use it. Stick with royalty-free websites that plainly say you have permission to use these photos or invest in a photographer that will give you the specific images you’ve been searching for anyway. It’s easy to think that you can use any photo you come across, but the truth of the matter is, free images can be a lot more expensive than just buying the ones you actually want.