“Ya know, right click. Download Image As. Easy to do. Everybody does it. It’s free!”

And often illegal. Google Images is an incredibly easy way to get images for that last minute presentation. But before you use images found there, you need to consider copyright law.

Because there is so much “free” content available, the great majority of people in the United States (I will limit the scope of this discussion to this country) are blissfully unaware of copyright laws and the ownership of intellectual property. Do you own that song you paid for and downloaded? Do you own the software on your computer, the apps on your phone? The answer is a resounding “No”. What you got for your hard earned money is a license. That license, with restrictions, allows you to use that copyrighted material in described manner as determined by the user agreement that you clicked on – but you didn’t read. Common things that are considered intellectual property are songs, movies, software, inventions, artistic and literary works.

You may find it tough to convince coworkers or clients that Google Images are not always license free and that you need to obtain permission for use. Assure them that the time and upfront expense will be worth it in the long run. In recent years Google has made initiatives to find the creator of the work, the copyright information and how to obtain the license easier for those who wish to do so. This information is frequently in the metadata associated with the image and can be seen by opening up the photo in most editing softwares.

Let’s take a step back and reconsider if you even want to use an image found on the first page of a Google search. If it was that simple for you to find, how many others are doing the same thing? If your audience identifies an image they have seen else where, it raises the question as to whether anything else associated with your project was copied as well. If there is a limited budget, purchasing a photo from an established stock photography website would insure you don’t run into copyright issues as well as improve the overall design. Should you decide that you need a creative and unique photo to illustrate your ideas, hiring a photographer will avoid all of these issues. When you hire a photographer, a discussion of copyright ownership should take place so both parties are in agreement and there aren’t any misunderstandings months or years in the future.

If this has initiated a discussion in your office and you would like additional information, don’t hesitate to contact me at jim@pauhanaphoto.com.

Cover Photo: When you Google “Sunrise Grand Cayman” this photo, © Jim Greipp, is one of the first five displayed.