Hey, it’s Hoz with a brand-new episode of Ask Hoz, and in today’s session, I’m going to be answering the turbulent question: is it safe to use images from Google images on my blog or do Google images copyright rules forbid this?
Well, to answer that quickly swiftly and briefly: no it really isn’t.
Let me explain why.
The Google Image Search is not a place where images are hosted. Google is a search engine (you know this already of course) so it’s populating the search engine results that you see on that page with images from websites on the web.
In the above example, I search for ‘bicycles’ in Google images.
So, using this example, let’s pretend that you take a picture of your bicycle and then you publish that on your blog.
Here’s what can happen as a result of that:
- Google may pick that up and serve it up as a result in the image search results
- Now, I could go to Google Images, search for bicycles…
- and boom… I see the image of your bicycle!
And this is where we get into this big old debate…
Here's what we're going to be covering...
- 1 Is There a Google Images Copyright Infringement or Are There Google Images Copyright Rules That I Need to be Aware of?
- 2 Are Google Images Copyright Free?
- 3 What if I Use a Photo from Google Images and Attribute to the Owner?
- 4 But The Image is in The Public Domain…
- 5 So When is it OK to Use an Image?
- 6 Using Google Images and Copyright Infringement Issues That May Arise
- 7 Where to Get License Free Images From?
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 Resources
Is There a Google Images Copyright Infringement or Are There Google Images Copyright Rules That I Need to be Aware of?
Let me be clear about one thing: there are certainly copyright free images in the Google image search results. But most are not free to use.
After you finish readintg this, check out my tutorial on how to find Google images without copyright
When we understand how the images got there in the first place, we can start to see how this complex issue really works and how this applies to any Google images copyright rules.
So let’s get back our bicycle example:
That image belongs to you, not Google.
Remember, you photographed the image and you published it on your blog.
And therein is the key thing: that image is not hosted on Google. Nobody put it on Google. It’s hosted on your blog. It’s your image, it’s your blog.
Google is just doing its job: it’s a search engine and it indexes public content and that’s why your image is those results.
So, now that we have the big picture, look at the question again:
Are Google Images Copyright Free?
It looks different now, doesn’t it? If Google had images and they were giving them away then yes, they would be copyright free. But those images are not Google’s images…
What if I Use a Photo from Google Images and Attribute to the Owner?
Good question. But if I take your image and put it on my blog, it’s still not my image to use. Adding attribution to your as the image owner is nice, of course, but the point here is that you didn’t agree to me using your image in the first place.
And that’s where the situation can get sticky.
But The Image is in The Public Domain…
I’ve seen this argument come up time and again from past clients that wanted to use images on their websites and who were completely oblivious to even the idea of Google images copyright rules and issues.
In our example, the image is on your blog. Just because your blog is public and accessible to everybody does not mean the image is in the public domain (that is a term for a different thing).
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the matter:
The term public domain has two senses of meaning. Anything published is out in the public domain in the sense that it is available to the public. Once published, news and information in books are in the public domain, although they may also be copyrighted.
So When is it OK to Use an Image?
When it’s in the public domain, or when the owner has given permission to use it. The latter includes purchasing a license to use an image that the owner may have listed on a stock photography website.
To give you a good example of public domain content, if you publish a video on YouTube, I could grab the embed code and put it on my website and you really wouldn’t have a point if you complained because you published the video on a video sharing website. It’s a public space intended for sharing.
By contrast, nobody publishes images on Google images.
So where does this leave us? What’s the worst that could happen if I use an image that isn’t mine?
Using Google Images and Copyright Infringement Issues That May Arise
Unfortunately, copyright infringement is a serious issue and there are many documented cases where bloggers have been sued by news agencies because they used an image from the news website on their blog to report on the news, even after attributing back to the news site.
This is why you need express permission from the image owner. Attribution is only cool when the owner says it’s cool.
So the worst possible case scenario is that you get sued by a corporation for using their image without permission.
While not everybody is going to pursue an image copyright infringement claim, many will. Typically, the bigger the corporation the worst the situation could be (well, they have all those snazzy lawyers sitting around, so they’re going to put them to use…)
So don’t do it.
Where to Get License Free Images From?
Additionally, for quality images, you can go Google and search for things like:
- stock images
- stock photography
- free stock photos
- royalty free images
Be mindful that if the images are free, then the quality may be inferior to that expected from a paid stock photography website.
If the image is for your blog or your website and that’s an important asset of yours, then image quality has to be a consideration.
Now, this is not to say that you can’t find quality free-to-use images on image sharing websites. Of course you can. Many of the people who share those images on those image sharing websites are photographers or amateur photographers who take incredibly good pictures.
But you’ll need to filter out ‘the noise’, because there may be a lot of really poor quality images that everybody else is taking and uploading to the same website.
When in doubt about whether to use Google images, don’t use them.
There is a way to search for free to use images, which I will cover in my next blog post.
But the general rule of thumb is that if the images were not taken by you, then they’re not yours. You can only use the image when the owner has given express permission for you to use the image, or when the image is in the public domain or on an image sharing website.
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