Found on the Internet

What could be simpler than Googling a couple of images, finding ones you like, and putting them to work in your marketing? It’s more complicated than you may think, and the wrong choices can cost you thousands of dollars. You must understand the following risks:

FREE TO DOWNLOAD IS NOT FREE TO USE. Anyone can put any image on the internet, even if they don’t own it themselves or have no permission to distribute the image. Google and other search engines do not curate what images they show. Just because it is in Google search results does not mean it isn’t copyright infringement to use the image in a commercial setting. If you are merely sharing an article from someone else’s site, even one they asked you to share, using an image from that article may result in you getting a letter from a lawyer.

SEEMINGLY INNOCENT IMAGES MAY JUST BE THE BAIT. Some people make money off unsuspecting business owners by distributing images “FREE” with simple restrictions, such as attributing the author in a particular way. If you use such an image without following the restrictions to the letter… such as making the attribution in the wrong place or slightly too small, etc… then you could be getting a letter from a lawyer demanding a settlement or court appearance.

IMAGES FOR COMMERCIAL USE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Google, Flickr, and other search engines can let you restrict image results to just “commercial use” images. These are images Google “thinks” are free to use, but it is YOUR responsibility to make sure of that before using any images from such a search. Often images in such a search may require certain conditions, such as attribution. Be very cautious about using such images.

Does all of this intimidate you? Make you wonder what images you can possibly use? It should. The good news is there is an easy answer: paid stock websites. Obviously, it isn’t pleasant to think about spending $10+ per image when you could grab something for free elsewhere, but when you consider a single image use violation can cost you in the thousands of dollars for even one occurrence, it’s just good business sense to ensure you are protected. What do pay stock sites provide that protects you? A written, legally binding license agreement that is tied to your account. This provides you an easy defense you can point to if anyone accuses you of image theft.

There are plenty of great stock sites out there, however we recommend or for their good mix of selection and affordability.


1. Never pull an image without first learning in writing what are the exact terms for its use. Note any limitations, such as required attribution or audience size.

2. Keep the information you find in a database for easy lookup. Make sure your database has the website where you obtained the image, a copy of the terms listed, the date you downloaded the image, and a list of where you have used the image yourself.

3. Require that all outside designers, web developers, social media managers, etc. send you a list of all image sources so you can ensure they are not accidentally putting you at risk.

4. As much as possible, require marketing providers you work with to take responsibility for the images they provide you. Check your contract agreements to make sure they will take responsibility for illegal image use.