Googling for images

My friend Janice Schwarz has a guest post over on the Draknet blog today: Google Search: Not free images.

I get a lot of images from clients to put on websites. Because I like to educate and protect my clients, I am prone to asking, “Where did you get this from?”

More often than not, the response is: “Google’s free image search.”

Let me clear up a common misconception: the image search on Google is not a repository of free images for everyone. What Google is doing is searching images on other people’s websites and showing those images to you. These are images that are protected by copyright law.

I get my share of those too, for websites and for books. Enough that when I rewrote much of my site recently, I added a bit on copyright, at the very top of the Preparing graphics page.

Be sure that all graphics you upload are either your own work or that you have obtained rights to use them. Graphics found on the Internet aren’t free for the taking. They may be copyrighted, available for a fee (stock photo or clip art collections), licensed under Creative Commons or public domain. Play it safe—don’t assume. For some great information about copyright, read Brad Templeton’s 10 Big Myths about copyright explained.

I’ve been referring people to Templeton’s article for years, and to his A brief intro to copyright. If you haven’t read them, take a few minutes to do that. It will be worth your while.

Now, back to Googling for images. Nothing wrong with it, we Google everything anymore. Remember, while the search is free, the images probably aren’t. But what if you found one you really want to use? Don’t just grab the image, and hope to get away with it. It’s theft, it’s wrong, and besides you may be able to get permission to use it. How? A little Internet sleuthing is in order.

First thing to do is follow the link. Click that image you like and you’ll see it at the top of your browser window, and below it will be the site it came from. Google helpfully reminds you, just below the image title and specs, that “Image may be subject to copyright.” Check the site for copyright notices, for photo or artist credits. You’ll probably find a copyright notice of some kind in the page footer. The About page may tell you what you need to know. Poke around, even if it leads to you another source.

Once you think you’ve found your copyright owner, send them an email. Tell them what you want to do with this image and why their work is the perfect thing. A little flattery never hurts. Ask for permission to post it on your site or use it in your book. The artist or photographer may be flattered enough to allow you to use it for free. Maybe you can barter a bit, Internet style: offer to credit them prominently, link to their site, mention them on FaceBook or LinkedIn, exchange guest-blogger posts and so on. They may be happy to get the exposure for their work.

I don’t mean to imply that you can always get what you want for free or cheap. A lot of what I said applies mostly to dealing with talented amateurs or freelancers just getting established. Don’t forget that artists and photographers are trying to earn a living from their work, just like you. They may already have set fees. You know what you can afford, but a fair price is whatever two parties can agree on. See what you can work out.

If Google tells you the image you want is from a stock photo or clip art collection, it’s simpler. Yes, you can use it—for a fee. Some fees are surprisingly reasonable. Some are pretty expensive. One of my favorite services is, which is a subscription site. Since a one-week subscription is just $14.95, I sign up for a week when I need some clip art. Then I spend several hours on the site, searching and downloading. A bargain.

The safest way to Google for images? Just what Janice said: search on clip art or stock photos. Add a keyword to narrow it down. Tons of good stuff out there.

Oh, and those images, they’re not copywritten, they’re copyrighted. You knew that, right?

1 thought on “Googling for images”

  1. A fair warning. Good info and instruction as to what to do. Then you go point out if the copy is righted or written. Keeping me confused. 😮

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