Whether you are a freelancer, blogger, or YouTuber, have a start-up, small or large business, the rule is simple - you must not use photos, videos, or graphics without the author's permission. Using images in an illegal way can expose you to legal consequences.

Many people still think that if they find an image on Google without the author's signature then the image is out of copyright - nothing could be further from the truth. Despite increasing awareness of copyright on the internet, the fight against photo theft is almost like tilting at windmills.

Learn good practices for using the work of artists in a legal way. Sometimes the best way to learn is to know what not to do:

  1. Do not use images directly from Google Images or other search engines, even if they are under Commercial & Other Licenses or Creative Commons category. Go to the website where the image of your interest is located and read the licence terms before using.


  1. Don't take images from free websites like Unsplash, Pexels or Pixabay or other "free image banks", especially if you are a business or run a commercial site. Websites of this type do not guarantee the legitimacy of the photos stored in their system. Anyone can upload photographs there and claim to be the author. Always buy photos directly from the photographer or from trusted stock agencies like Shutterstock or Adobe Stock.


  1. Do not use images found on “wallpaper” sites. A photo or other image from such websites can only be used in a personal manner - as desktop or phone wallpaper - never commercially. Usually, these websites contain photos uploaded by anonymous users (there is no need to register), and it is very difficult to remove such photos from there. It is best to stay away from these websites if you are looking for photos to publish on your website.


  1. Do not use photos that are marked with a Creative Commons licence without reading the licence terms in detail. Creators sometimes upload a few works from their portfolio under a Creative Commons licence to share part of their work with the rest of the world for free. The whole idea of Creative Commons is to make access to content easier, but this does not mean that you can use the work of others without any restrictions.


  1. Don't publish photos found on Pinterest. Finding the author of such a photo is sometimes difficult, and you have a legal obligation to ascertain the copyright status of an image before publishing it. If you are unsure, do not use the photo.


  1. Don't publish a photograph, video or graphic just because you got it from someone else. It is often the case that such a person does not have full rights to the material. By publishing it, you expose yourself to legal consequences. Remember – you are responsible for the content published on your website.


  1. Don't take photos just because they are on Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Many people think that if a creator uploads a photo on social media, he or she is at the same time giving up all rights to that photo. This is wrong. We suggest reading the T&C carefully and with understanding. If in doubt, simply do not use the content in question.


  1. Do not share photos from Instagram via third-party applications. Instagram does not allow you to share photos on its platform in the traditional way. It is possible to upload someone else's post to your stories but you cannot upload someone else's post to your feed. Using apps that allow you to do this does not make it legal. Even if you tagged the author.


  1. It is also wrong to publish an image with information about the source and the author, but without permission. The creator has the right not to want his/her photo on your website. In principle, you must always have permission to use material that is owned by someone else.


  1. Do not use images without the author's permission just because you are a non-profit organisation or institution. Your status and type of activity does not exempt you from complying with the law. Approach the creator and maybe he/she will sell you a licence for the photo on preferential terms or give it to you for free if he/she likes your activity and would like to support you.


  1. The eleventh mistake is to put too much trust in the materials provided by the people or companies you have hired to design your website or make your graphics. Don't assume that third parties have all the necessary licences for the material that will later be on your website. It is very common for such material to be taken from free image banks as a cost-saving measure.

The list of mistakes is certainly not exhaustive.
Most important:

  • If you want to use content on the internet that belongs to someone else, always ask permission.
  • Don't use free image banks, especially if you are running a business.
  • Remember that material on social media is also protected.
  • When in doubt, don't publish!

To know more, read also our article here: Photo copyright Infringement – what you need to know

Learn to respect someone else's work - there is so much material on the internet that sometimes it seems like you can take some of it because no one will notice anyway. However, it is the artist who suffers in the end because instead of buying the artwork, people download it and use it for free.

This is strange, because after all, in reality people don't take pictures or paintings from a wall that doesn't belong to them and put them in a restaurant, hotel, shop or even in their office where they receive clients. If anything, such an action would be called theft.

Photo credit: TA design / Shutterstock

Best practices! Learn to use images legally. Do not make these eleven mistakes.