Most people know about Google images, if you’re searching for pictures for your website, you can use this tool on your Google home page to show images related to your search. People often wonder if it’s ok to use one or more of these images on their website. The short answer is maybe, but I would not recommend it.

I am aware that some people would disagree with me on this. That’s ok, I can give you the facts and you can decide for yourself what to do. It’s true that you can sort the image search results to only show images that are labeled for reuse.

There’s a ‘tools’ setting at the top of the results page where you can check ‘labeled for reuse’ under usage rights. Seems pretty straight forward, right?

Maybe – but when you click on an image from any free source, there’s usually a disclaimer that says “images may be subject to copyright”. So how can you know or sure?

My opinion on this is that you can’t, so only use your own pictures or pictures that you pay for. Ouch. That can get tricky for bloggers on a limited budget. So what’s the big deal? Why not just take a chance and use the image?

The truth is that you can, and it will probably be ok, but it only takes one event to ruin the ‘probably be ok’ approach. Let me explain why I feel this way. When I first started blogging on a regular basis, I used a picture from a free source. A few months later, I received an email, certified letter, and a phone call from a law firm in California.

They informed me that a picture I had used in several places was owned by their client and that I had violated his copyright. They demanded that I take the picture down and send them a minimum of $5,000.00! I was shocked of course, so I set out to do some research. What I found was rather frightening.

I found several stories online about bloggers who went through the same thing and ended up paying thousands of dollars to settle. Turns out there’s a cottage industry of attorneys looking to shake down unsuspecting bloggers. Claiming ignorance will not help you, these laws are very strict.

I don’t really want to share the outcome of my story here, but I will tell you privately if you’re dying to know.

If you do decide to use images from a free source, here are a few tips:
  • Keep a record of where you got the picture including a screenshot showing that it was free to use.
  • Have a clear takedown policy page for your website with a link in your footer.
  • It seems like amateur photographers are everywhere, network with a few and offer to promote them if you can use their pictures.
  • Use your own pictures if possible.
  • Site the source with a link if the free image requires you to do so.

Pictures are nice, but I have seen too many new bloggers add way too many pictures to their blog posts. One or two should be enough to engage your visitor. Be sure that your pictures are optimized, formatted properly, and scaled correctly so they do not slow down your website load times.

If you have questions about pictures or need help with your website we would love to talk with you!


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