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Inbound Marketing Blog

    Marketing Images and Legal Woes

    Posted by Jen Barry

    Is Your Company at Risk Due to Your Marketing Images?

    When you pass a candy bar at Walmart, and you really, really want it, but you know you don’t have the cash to pay for it, what do you do? If you’re like the vast majority of people, you leave it there, knowing that stealing is wrong. Not only do we fear legal repercussions, but we also have those little niggling feelings in the backs of our heads: GUILT. Our moral compasses lead us away from wrong, and it’s up to us to obey.

    The Internet makes this moral compass a little wonky, however. Without a cashier waiting to take our money, we may not even realize we’re stealing. We know better than to pretend someone else’s book is something we wrote, but what about taking quotes and blog content from around the web and passing them off as our own? Perhaps simply forgetting to credit and lead readers back to the original source isn’t as bad, but it’s still wrong. Even in this instance, we understand it’s wrong, and most attempt to somehow pay for use, whether it’s through publicity or simple acknowledgment.

    The true test of the moral compass comes when it’s time to choose marketing images for your blogs, eBooks, and web design. We’re all aware of stock photography sites, but the prices on each image really add up when you’re blogging once per day. It’s so much easier and cheaper to conduct a Google image search, choose the first that fits your blog, and call it a day. There’s no cashier, no security guard eyeing you over his sunglasses. You can simply take the image and run.

    Copyright Laws

    Believe it or not, those images you’ve been using actually belong to someone. A photographer or graphic artist used their and talent to create them, and you steal their candy bar when you don’t download the image from credible stock photography sites. Even an amateur photographer sharing photos on their blog owns the rights to the images. Those images may be available for use under certain licenses, but be very aware of this: They are not free.

    Creative Commons Licenses

    When researching the licenses needed for your marketing images, you’ll likely run across the Creative Commons license. The Creative Commons license was “created to enable the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.” What this means is that artists have the ability to share their work with the public for distribution under certain restrictions. The artist chooses those restrictions or conditions; the public does not.

    This means you must verify the conditions before using the images you choose. You cannot download the photo or artwork and use it simply because it fell under the Creative Commons license. The artist may have non-commercial clauses or require acknowledgment in a particular place or way. To ignore those requests is just like ignoring the cashier with that candy bar burning a hole in your pocket.

    Royalty Free Stock Image Licenses 

    Don’t be fooled by the word “free” in this license type. Royalty free images can be used several times after paying only once. You do still have to pay. The license can come in two separate types: standard and extended. Before you use any image, be sure you check the license agreement to be sure your intentions fit the requirements.

    In many cases, you can purchase the exclusive rights to the image of your choice. That means the image will be removed from listings, and no one else will be able to purchase it. You’ll be able to use the photo or graphic design for your proprietary marketing materials with the assurance that no one else can use the same image…unless they steal it.

    Really Free Images

    There are sites where you can acquire free photos in exchange for a simple acknowledgment. You may be tempted to simply download the image and use it without a credit because attribution takes too much time. Be very sure that using any marketing images from these free sites without acknowledging the site and the artist is tantamount to stealing. Always follow all instructions for use when you take advantage of free photos and graphic designs.

    Using Google Image Search

    These laws and restrictions don’t mean you can’t use Google to find your images. If you know how to conduct your searches, you can still locate Creative Commons and Royalty Free images to use for your marketing materials and blogs. Simply conduct your marketing image search, and then click the gear on the upper right side of the screen for Advanced Search.


    marketing images

    When you reach the new search screen, you’ll find an option at the bottom of the form to search by usage rights. From here, you can select the type of images you need.



    marketing images


    Even after you find your images through Google—creative commons, royalty free, or completely free—you must still remember to credit your source. If you don’t, the amount of work you’ve done to locate approved images won’t mean anything; you’ll still be a thief.

    Cease and Desist

    So, what happens if you attempt using images for which you haven’t paid? After all, there are millions of blogs out there. Someone can’t possibly find all the stolen images, can they?

    Think again.

    If you decide to take the “easy” way and use images without paying for them or giving acknowledgment, the management companies and artists will find you. A cease and desist letter will arrive in your mailbox, as well as a bill for the image you stole and the amount of time you used it without permission. You can argue all you like, but the fact of the matter is, you’ll end up paying for your transgression.

    Do it right the first time, even if you think it takes too much time. You’ll lose a lot more time fighting C&D letters and replacing all the images on your blog to avoid further legal action. It’s just not worth it.


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    Image credit:chanpipat/freedigitalphotos.net

    Topics: Design