Can I Use That Picture?

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Can I use that picture?

The use of images within the online world has become almost unavoidable. With the rise of social media and blogging, it’s difficult to tell a story and captivate your audience without using images as a visual medium. And so, we flit over to Google, type in what we’re looking for, and right click ‘Save Image As’, right? Well, no. Using someone else’s work not only negatively affects your SEO (search engine optimisation), but it is also wrong and, actually, illegal.

General Laws Around Copyright

Copyright is a type of legal protection that is assigned to content creators at the precise moment of creation. Copyright law can, however, be a little ambiguous. Which is why it is so important to double check before using someone else’s image. Why? Because you could get sued a hefty amount if you get caught.

A smart rule to live by, when it comes to images online, is to assume that every image is under copyright. This will help you steer clear of using images that are available to be used on blogs, for example, but not in paid newsletters, books, videos, or any other kind of project. This is because, as explained above, the copyright holder can decide on different uses for their work, many of which you may not be aware of.

Furthermore, simply altering the image does not alleviate you from the possible liability of copyright violation. You can’t change the image, by adding text or a filter, and then claim ownership when the original image was never yours to begin with.

Finally, it is important to remember that, if the image representing the copyright violation is found on your website, as the owner of that site, you are the only one liable. Even if you have a designer who chose the image/s on your behalf, you are still the one responsible. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure that your designer understands the laws around copyright and that you are aware of where they source their images from.

Plagiarism Versus Copyright

Let’s also just straighten something else out: plagiarism and copyright violation are not the same. According to

“Plagiarism is an ethical concern that may have other elements of intellectual property theft tied with it. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is illegal and carries with it potentially significant consequences. Plagiarism can be avoided by providing attribution and giving credit, copyright infringement can not.”

So, making use of someone else’s image and simply acknowledging them or linking back to their website does not necessarily nullify the copyright violation. Unless a specific Creative Commons Licence is in place. The basis of copyright law is that the one who holds the copyright gets to decide how and where their work appears. Despite you thinking that you’re doing them a favour by providing ‘exposure’, nevertheless, they may not want their work on your site.

What is Fair Use

When it comes to the copyright laws of images on the internet, you may or may not have heard of the term ‘Fair Use’. Fair Use basically involves maintaining the balance between protecting the rights of the owner of the image and promoting the interests of the public.

Fair Use is a balance between protecting the creator and promoting the interests of the public. For example, when writing an online product review, you will most likely need a high-quality photo of the product. Therefore, you will go to the manufacturer’s website and grab an image of the product and upload it to accompany your review. In this instance. the right to use the copyrighted image is permitted under Fair Use.

There are, however, limits to Fair Use and only a court has the final decision-making ability.

Using Google Images

As mentioned above, most images found on the internet – including Google images – will be subject to some sort of copyright law. If you still want to make use of Google images, however, these are the steps to follow:

  1. Search for images using keywords as usual.
  2. When results are returned click “Search Tools”
  3. Choose “Usage Rights”. Select an option from the dropdown menu.

Free Resources

You’ll be happy to know, however, that sifting through images on Google images to find the right usage rights is not your only option. There are several websites that offer free image downloads available to the public that are as high in quality as those you can purchase off of stock sites. Some of these include:

You could also always take your own photos! Here is a guide on how to take better shots with your iPhone.

Finally, here are 71 free stock photos and textures that we’ve gathered for you!

Now that you know the ins and outs of copyright law and have all the necessary tools to avoid being sued, there really is no excuse.

Happy imaging!


Samantha Carvalho is the Chief Marketing Officer of Practice of the Practice. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her husband and cat. Over and above Practice of the Practice, she is passionate about women empowerment, fashion, and animals.

To outsource your marketing or design requirements, contact Sam at