You Mean I Can’t Use An Image From Google Images?

A friend called in a panic last week.

“I just received a notice from a lawyer stating I used an image of their clients on my website. It was copyrighted, therefore I owe $750 and must take the image of my site. If I don’t pay, they will continue pressing charges. Is this for real? I found it on Google Images, can’t I use those images?”

Yep, the world of photography is in chaos at the moment.

So we explained copyright laws and how the only images you can use online are images created by you, or images falling under creative commons or royalty free images.

Still the conversation persisted.

“So there’s a difference? If I look through Google Images, how do I know if I can use it or not?”

“You can’t use Google Images. Google indexes all images placed on every site in existence. Some are copyrighted, some aren’t. But you can’t use them. You can purchase images from a royalty free site like Or you can create the images yourself.”

Yep, for good or bad, the Internet and Google have changed everything. With a goal of indexing virtually everything in existence – from photographs to books and public domain information – Google now has become the average person’s best friend.

If you have a question, Google it.

If you have a problem, Google it.

If you need an image, Google it.

And it doesn’t stop at Google. Wikipedia recently announced a contest, Wiki Loves Monuments 2012. They want to increase the amount of images taken from national monuments that exist in the commons on the Wiki site. Their goal is to gain 10,000 volunteers to participate and contribute hundreds of thousands of images to the Commons.

Yep, hundreds of thousands of images.

All of this is great. Photography is at an all time high – it’s attached to everything we do. We’ve become a very visual society.

But what if you are a landscape photographer? Does this impact you? You bet it does.

The problem also lies in that photography is readily available everywhere. Everyone has a phone, so everyone has the ability to take images.

We can post them online and share them with thousands of friends in a minute.

And if you’ve used royalty free images that you can buy for around $1 on royalty free sites, you know you see the best images everywhere – all over the world.

Its no wonder the average consumer is confused.

But whose fault is it? Should we really blame the consumer for using images in any way they see fit?

Or should we look to ourselves for lack of education?

If we don’t stand out from the pack, we have nothing of value to offer.

If we don’t protect our own images, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

And if we don’t find a way to do something completely different than how it was done in the past, we can expect to receive more of the same along the way.

Yes, it’s hard receiving a phone call from someone who truly has no idea they can’t use a Google Image free of charge.

But it’s also a wakeup call.

Anyone with a camera can take a picture. And some of them are going to be pretty darn good. You can find photos anywhere, and lets face it, you really don’t have to have a truly professional image anymore to accomplish what you desire.

What we need as photographers instead is to educate people about what they can have if they are willing to pay for it. We have to develop our skills so much they are in demand, with a select group willing to pay anything to get it.

We have to realize the old way is gone. The only way to move forward is to differentiate. We have to be able to explain the difference. They have to see the difference.

What makes you different?

2 thoughts on “You Mean I Can’t Use An Image From Google Images?”

  1. I always give a photo accreditation with a link to the photo source’s website. At least I’m trying to give something back then, and not steal the image. I haven’t had any issues yet, but I’m sure I’ll get a cease and desist at some point. Seems like it’s par for the course with copyright.

  2. Very useful article, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I’ve seen this subject brought up before, but I think it’s important to keep raising awareness about copyright issues. For the most part, I believe people act with good intentions and simply don’t know any better when they’re using images from google.

    I was lucky enough to learn about it in school instead of learning the hard & costly way. So the more this issue is hammered into common knowledge, the less nightmares I think otherwise decent people will face. I also admire wikipedia for their efforts to encourage more photo submissions with a creative commons license. Just wish it was “Wiki loves nature” because I only had a small handful of monument photos to contribute from Canada lol


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