Why Using Pics Found on Google Image is NOT a Good Idea - Stock Photography Licenses Explained

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Why Using Pics Found on Google Image is NOT a Good Idea – Stock Photography Licenses Explained

You know the visual side of your blog, website and social media matter. So you either take photography crash course or you start searching for stock photography websites. However, there are plenty of issues regarding online image sourcing and how to do it legally that somehow do not get addressed often.

The misconceptions stop people from accessing the incredible number of 100% free public domain photos. Instead, they opt to use images found on Google Search and act surprised when a legal notice from some random lawyer demands payment for licensing. When building a strong online presence, make sure you not only create visually stunning channels but also avoid the holes in the bumpy road of copyright.

The four most common online photo sourcing mistakes:

  • Using images found on social media and crediting image source as said social media. Despite people thinking Pinterest to be a free image repository, the platform does not hold the copyright to any content published on it. You have to dig deeper to find the author.
  • Using images found on Google Search result pages. Similarly to Pinterest, Google does not own the rights to any image indexed – Google simply pulls the images together in response to your keyword search from different websites.
  • Not understanding different licenses or copyright. People do not realise they do not hold the copyright to the photos of them commissioned from a photographer or that most Creative Commons licenses require attribution. They unknowingly create issues such as sharing uncredited photos or adjusting images with a photo filter when the author prohibited it.
  • Taking without asking. Many people use content created by others thinking that crediting the author (so-called ‘hat tip’ or ‘shout out’) is enough of a payment. More and more content creators require their written permissions to republish their content. Don’t buy into the ‘for exposure’ crap – would you be happy to see someone take your work without asking, claiming they are doing you a favour?

What is copyright?

Copyright, as explained in Wikipedia, is ‘a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution.’ For example, by creating a photo or a song you automatically become the copyright holder (copyright protects the intellectual property) unless other legal circumstances apply. The only licenses, which indicate the original copyright holder waived their rights to their creation are Creative Commons Zero (CC0) or Public Domain license.

Understanding different photo licenses

When talking about stock photography licensing and free/paid availability of the photos, we can distinguish three different models of licensing:

  • Paid
  • Free but Attribution Required
  • Free/Public Domain

#1 Paid licenses

There are two dominant models of paid image licensing used by the biggest stock photography providers: Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty-Free (RF).

Rights Managed license, or RM, in photography and the stock photo industry, refers to a ‘copyright license which, if purchased by a user, allows the one-time use of the photo as specified by the license. If the user wants to use the photo for other uses an additional license needs to be purchased’ (Source: Wikipedia). It’s an old model of licensing calculating licence charge on the basis of a specific use, medium, period of time, print run, placement, size of content, territory selected and so on. Sites such as Getty Images uses this particular type of license.

Royalty Free license, or RF, refers to ‘the right to use copyright material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use or per volume sold, or some time period of use or sales’ (Source: Wikipedia). This particular license is used by Shutterstock, which offers all images as Royalty-Free split into different subscription-based models.

Exclusive and non-exclusive licenses

There are also two extensions of RM and RF licenses – exclusive and non-exclusive. The exclusive one ‘means that during the period that exclusive rights are granted, you agree that rights to use that image will not be sold to anyone else‘ (Source). Based on that, license exclusivity is pretty expensive and can only be applied to RM images. RF images can be licensed on non-exclusive basis since the royalty-free license gives the buyer freedom of use by default. Stock photography is primarily non-exclusive (although Getty Images allows exclusivity upon additional fee payment), while commissioned projects tend to be exclusive.

#2 Free but Attribution Required

Creative Commons (CC) is a fairly recent development in the copyright licensing world – it was created in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred with the support of Center for the Public Domain based in the US. Some criticise its ‘justice movement’ aspirations and blame CC for the increase in copyright infringement cases.

CC enables content creators to license their images under one of the seven available license types, communication what rights are reserved by the copyright holder and which are waived for the benefit of potential users. Creative Commons licenses mean the photos are used on unpaid basis but six out of seven of them require the content to be attributed, which means providing author credit – usually comes down to clearly stating the name of the author and, if online, adding a link to the original image source (attribution formats are usually provided on the site from which you download the image, for example, Freepik generates HTML attribution you can copy and paste into your blog post).

Licenses are written to conform with international copyright treaties and have been adapted to the local law of over 50 different countries. Thanks to this pretty much anybody can generate a legally binding licence via the official website. For more detailed information, visit their FAQ section.

Each license is ‘built’ by the original creator through choosing from these set conditions (Source: Creative Commons):

  • Attribution (by) – All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.
  • ShareAlike (sa) – You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.
  • NonCommercial (nc) – You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.
  • NoDerivatives (nd) – You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.


Source: Creative Commons license page on Wikipedia

#3 Free/Public Domain

Public domain work (also referred to as CC0 as it’s the last of the seven Creative Commons licenses) is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. ‘Public domain is the purest form of open/free since no one owns or controls the material in any way’ (Source: Creative Commons Wiki). Work can be licensed under the public domain by the creator or fall under the public domain license after the original copyright had expired. The latter is often filed under Public Domain Mark, a tool announced in 2010 by Creative Commons used for ‘works that are no longer restricted by copyright to be marked as such in a standard and simple way, making them easily discoverable and available to others’ (Source: Creative Commons).

Personal use vs commercial use for bloggers

Contrary to popular belief, most bloggers are not non-commercial users. Once their websites start featuring ads, they fall into the commercial category. In general, despite a lot of confusion about non-commercial and commercial uses (Creative Commons even commissioned a research ‘Defining “Non-commercial -A Study of How the Online Population Understands “Noncommercial Use” September 2009’ ), I suggest individual bloggers who want to monetize their blogs steer clear of non-commercially labelled photos.

How to check an image for copyright?

If the website you used does not explicitly state who is the copyright owner, you can check the copyright statement and other details by looking at image EXIF (Exchangeable Image Format) metadata. There are two ways to do it.

#1 Check copyright notice in image properties. This is not the best way when the image is not downloaded from its original source as the metadata could have been manipulated and resaved.

Download the image to your computer and right click on it. Select ‘Properties’ and go to ‘Details’ tab. You can see in the screenshot below that the copyright field is filled and attributed.



#2 Check EXIF info in CameraSummary

CameraSummary is a free online tool, which extracts EXIF data of an image. You can upload the image straight from the desktop. To protect the privacy of its users, CameraSummary deletes the files from its server after 10 minutes.


Anyway, that’s that. I hope that now you will stop using images found on Google Image search page and live an honest life.