How to Legally Use Images for Your Business Website

Neil JoryMarketing, WebsiteLeave a Comment

How to Legally Use Images For Your Business Website

It’s a fairly typical scenario. You’ve developed your business idea, refined your marketing message, acquired a great domain name and your website is nearly ready to go. 

All you need now are some great pictures to support your carefully crafted words.  Simple, let’s grab a few pictures from Google images.  As long as there’s no copyright symbol you’ll be fine, and no one will ever know, right?

Wrong!

How do you know if an image is copyrighted on Google?

Just because an image appears in a Google search doesn’t mean that it’s free to use.  The vast majority of images on the internet are likely to be protected by copyright.

Whether it has a copyright symbol or not doesn’t matter either. Digital images often contain hidden metadata that provides evidence of the owner even without a copyright symbol.

Google Images

Always assume that an image is copyrighted unless you know for certain otherwise. If you use a copyrighted image without permission, be aware that you could be sued by the owner.

In the US, photographers own the images they have taken from the moment they press the camera shutter.  UK copyright law states that if you want to use a copyrighted image on your website, you need to have permission from the owner of the license before using it.

Don’t assume that if you got someone to design the website for you that they understand copyright law.

Graham Everitt, from Okehampton based Copyright Correct says, “Many web designers do not have a full understanding of copyright law and still use images that have not been licensed or have been ‘borrowed’ from Google images.”

Photographers, graphic designers and especially the large image repositories will sue in order to protect their intellectual property.  Some of the largest, such as Getty Images have huge resources to actively sift through websites looking for their images. If they find their copyrights being infringed they can and do take legal action. 

Where can you get images for your website?

Creative Commons image sites

If you are looking for free images that you can use for your website then there are a few sites that are worth checking out:

These sites provide a good range of free images that you can use under a Creative Commons license. That means that they allow you to use their images for free but there may be some conditions of use.

Make sure you check what the terms of use are for the image you want as there are different types of Creative Commons licenses. Some require you to provide an attribution back to the creator, others may let you modify the original and some may not. There may also be restrictions for commercial use. As always if you are unsure, then ask before using an image.

The other downside of using free images is that lots of other websites use the same ones. Perhaps if you are going to use them then be sparing and careful about where they are placed on your site. It may not provide a great impression if the main image on your home page is one that your visitor has seen on hundreds of other websites.

Stock photo sites

There are many commercial stock photo sites who manage pictures on behalf of photographers and ensure they get paid if their work is used. 

You’ll almost certainly find suitable photos and you’ll know that, having paid a fee, you can safely use that image for business purposes. Here are a few to look at:

These type of sites usually offer a subscription service depending on the number of photos you want to use in a month. That can be useful if you will need photos to support regular blog posts. You can generally buy one-off images as well for a fee. 

As with the free images be aware of the types of photos that you are using. People can usually spot a bad stock image from a mile off which may hurt your brand.

We’re all familiar with the white-toothed, grinning call centre operator or perfectly airbrushed family photo. If you search a little deeper through the results you can often find some great photos that aren’t so heavily used.

Take your own photos

If you are confident in your own ability, know what you are doing, and have the kit, you can take your own pictures.  This will mean that your pictures are relevant and unique. The composition and content will support your brand and message. 

With advances in technology, you can take some pretty good photos armed just with your smartphone. There are plenty of great photo editing apps that allow you to improve your photos as well.

Taking Photos

If you’re set on taking your own photos but don’t have the necessary skills then perhaps look for a local photography course or spend some time on YouTube learning how to snap that perfect image.

Taking excellent photos is even more important if you are running an e-commerce website. You will need to have high quality images of all your products, often from multiple angles. Product photography is a whole topic by itself but bear in mind that poor images here can really hurt your sales.

If you have a budget, you should consider hiring a professional photographer for an afternoon.  If you discuss what you need and plan your shoot well, you will end up with some stunning pictures that will enhance your website and be well worth the outlay. 

Talk to other local businesses if you need recommendations of photographers who do this type of work well.

What if you already have a website, it’s full of lovely pictures and your web designer merely shrugs when you ask where they came from? 

If that’s the case, for a fee you can use a company such as Copyright Correct to check the images on your website and offer you advice on any images that require a license.

Conclusion

The fact is, in marketing design is very important. It’s not enough to have wonderfully crafted text on your website (though it’s a good start), you also need some great images to go along with them.

Google can be a great resource for so many things but finding images that you can legally use on your website unfortunately is not one of them.

The best images are those that are unique and relevant for your business but if you don’t want to take your own photos or can’t afford a photographer then there are other free and paid for options that you can use.

Before you use any images on your website, always make sure that you have the copyright owner’s permission and don’t assume that if it doesn’t have a copyright symbol that it’s okay to use.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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