The Basics of Legal Image Use


Most people who are involved in local internet marketing understand the importance of using relevant, captivating images in online communication, especially when it comes to local social media marketing. After all, without images most memes are meaningless.

Although it is quite easy to find images through a Google Image search, it is important to avoid using copyrighted images. Many professional photographers apply watermarks to their online images to prevent people from taking their photos without their permission, but this is not always the case.


Using the Usage Rights Tools

Ultimately, it’s up to the users to make sure that they’re not stealing images. Since 2009, Google has allowed users to filter image search results to show only those that are available for reuse. However, until recently, this feature could only be found through the “Advanced Image Search” features. Now it’s available to users under the search tools, which appear automatically on the image search results page. To help users out, Google places all images in the following “usage rights” categories:

  • Labeled for reuse with modification
  • Labeled for reuse
  • Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification
  • Labeled for noncommercial reuse
  • Not filtered by license


A Word of Caution for Small Businesses

Now it’s easier to avoid copyright infringement, but there is one caveat. Sometimes people find copyrighted images in Google Images and publish them on their websites, then those stolen images appear in Google Images again frequently without any indication that they were originally copywritten, so you could inadvertently use an image that’s not labeled for reuse.

Nevertheless, the new placement of the “usage rights” filter is likely to deter people from stealing or “borrowing” online images.


Where to Find High-Quality Stock Images

To avoid the risk of legal trouble altogether, it might be best for your small business to subscribe to a stock image provider such as iStockPhoto or Shutterstock. Although both of these sites require a monthly subscription, it may be a wise investment for your small business, particularly if you also do a lot of print advertising.

Stock image providers such as these enable users to search for high-quality photos and even videos, and you can often find the perfect photo to make your website content stand out. Sometimes you can find images in vector format, which allows graphic designers to edit them.

Also, there are a number of free stock image websites, such as Morguefile and FreeStockImages.com, where you can often find what you’re looking for. However, the downside is that you will likely have to spend more time searching for what you need.

Alexandra Reichenbach

By Alexandra Reichenbach | 4 years ago |

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