Recently, I’ve been noticing a common practice among many website owners: the unauthorized use of photos and images. This is not only unethical, it is also highly illegal. Your company could be facing a stiff fine or other legal action from the copyright owner. It comes down to education of what you can and can’t use for content on your website.

Horror Stories

I’ve heard several stories of website owners being contacted by either an online stock photo service or a photographer, demanding payment for the use of images on the business owner’s website. The business owner found the images on Google and unwisely thought they were OK to use on their website. They weren’t. The penalties can range from a few hundred dollars to over $100,000 depending on how many images were used, where they were used, who owned them and how much the royalty rights were. It’s the same with any type of creative you may find online in a search: photos, illustrations and music. You need to know the rights and properly purchase them in order to use them. If not, you could be looking at a pretty big bill and possible lawsuit.

Beware of the Google Trap

Google is a great resource for information and inspiration for your website. That being said, using Google images can be a costly trap. Google indexes and catalogs images that are on websites throughout the internet. It also catalogs and displays images that are on paid stock photography websites and websites owned by photographers. These images are all rights protected. This means you can’t use them without paying a licensing fee. Stock photo and photographer websites guard their images like gold. Their cost can range from a few dollars to thousands, depending on whether you’re using royalty-free or right-protected images.

Our Recommendation

Use stock photography that can be purchased inexpensively from services like Shutterstock, Getty, iStock or Dreamstime. We purchase images, music and stock footage from all of these sources. Many offer an unlimited license to use the images once you purchase the rights. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the usage policies of each stock website, particularly those of Getty. Many of their images and footage are for Editorial use only and not licensed for commercial use on websites and in marketing materials. Make sure you verify the specific usage before you purchase the stock.

If you can’t locate the right image on a stock website, hire a photographer. It will cost more but you will get exactly what you need. You will still need to work out the usage rights with the photographer.

The take home message? Never use anything you find on-line without checking the ownership first!