Marketing Myth: Images on Google are Free to Download and Use

One of the key components of any great piece of content is the photo, illustration, or diagram.

The right visual framework contributes to a polished look that consumers basically demand if you want to grab their attention and get a minute of their time.

Choose a great image and someone doing a quick scan of your copy will become engaged and stay around to learn more.

Choose poor images, or no images at all, and the copy becomes monotonous and intimidating.

Copyright word in neon lights.

The importance of having great photos on your website might not be news to you, but where you’re getting those photos could have some repercussions you’re not prepared for. The vast majority of us are not photographers or graphic designers so our only option is to use an image someone else created. That is easier anyways, right?

It’s a common myth that everything publicly published on the internet is fair game to share and use. You may have solid proof that others are copying images they find online to repurpose in their own content without consequence, and frankly they’ve just been lucky so far.

Being sued over copyright infringement of a photo, illustration, or diagram you used without permission is one of the dark realities many content creators large and small have learned the hard way. Let’s keep your company out of those statistics.

Google Images Aren’t Free

Finding the right image is not easy. You have two very obvious options. Use an image you created or use an image someone else created.

The internet is filled to the brim with images of anything and everything you could imagine. There are few search queries you can type into Google Image Search that will yield nothing.

Disclaimer: Before I continue with this conversation I want to make it clear this is not legal advice. I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. Please seek the advice of a licensed attorney for legal advice regarding copyright infringement and any other legal matters.


To prove my point I searched for “banana on a surfboard” and as I anticipated, my inquiry produced image after image of yellow surfboards, surfboards with bananas painted on them, and even one cartoon of a banana riding a surfboard.

This is the perfect find since you just completed a piece of content that could use a photo of a white surfboard with a banana graphic across it. Depending on where you live, surfboards are not an everyday object that you can take a quick photo of. Add in the fact that this one has a banana on it (winning) and it makes the image even more rare. Given the situation of your geographical proximity and the clear alignment of this image with your content, you are faced with one option. Use the image you found in your Google search.

So, you do what everyone else does… you right-click on the image and save it to your computer to insert into your content. Now, here’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is, you just found the perfect image that fits perfectly in your piece. The bad news is you just committed copyright infringement and could be facing anywhere from a $200 to $150,000 penalty.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is using something someone else created without their consent. The act does not have to be with the intent of financial gain. It can be simply displaying the work of someone else without permission.

This includes poetry, novels, articles, songs, jingles, photos, illustrations, artwork, computer software, and architecture. I can tell you with complete certainty that if you use anything someone else created in whatever capacity you see fit-even if it is not trademarked or copyrighted-you will be guilty of copyright infringement.

  • Do people do it? Yes.
  • Does everyone get caught and fined? No.
  • Could they be? Absolutely.

To better understand the parameters here, let’s look at some of the ways the image download of the banana surfboard could be used that is copyright infringement.

  • Inserting the image, exactly the way it was downloaded, into a blog post on your website.
  • Cropping out the background of the image and alerting it in Photoshop to “make it your own”.
  • Placing the image on the cover of a greeting card and postcard you sell to gift shops in warm weather climates.

A common mistake many make is thinking that copyright infringement is limited to works that have been formally copyrighted and display the copyright symbol with the work. This is not true. The person that creates anything instantly is the owner of that work and holds the copyright. This would include a sketch of a banana riding a surfboard that you doodled on the napkin at lunch today. The moment you create that, you own the exclusive rights to it.

Another mistake many make is the assumption that it is okay to “borrow” the image from a site that appears to be “borrowing” the image too. There is some type of mistaken comfort here since you are not the originating offender. It really does not make a difference where you copy the image from. If you use the work of someone else without permission, you are in violation of copyright infringement.

The Right Way to Source Images

Fear not. There are several ways you can get great images into your website, blog posts, and social media posts.

The best option for obtaining great images is by creating them yourself.

Before you start to explain how you are not creative, do not have a nice camera, and never used Photoshop, keep in mind that all of those problems can be solved by the phone you hold in your hand. Most phones are equipped with a camera that can take photos or video with surprisingly high quality. If the built-in filters for cropping and adjusting the image lack some of the features you need to make your images spectacular, there are plenty of low-cost (and free) apps available to expand your editing options.

Sure, shooting your own photos does take time and may require a slight learning curve. The tradeoff is totally worth it.

There is a certain level of authenticity that custom photos give to a website or blog post. Even a novice will be able to tell the difference between photos of you in a meeting versus a stock image of a “formal business meeting in an office conference room” that has been used on three other websites they visited today.

The next best option is to purchase photos from royalty free stock photography websites.

Maybe you are bad at taking pictures or you were born with absolutely no creative bones in your body. When taking your own photos is not an option, then turn to stock photography sites.

Stock photography websites are gigantic collections of photos, illustrations, and videos taken by others that can be purchased for use in your business. The photos are organized by keyword making it really easy to find images to fit your needs. Most sites allow use of these images on your website and in other marketing materials like brochures you have printed. Be sure to check out the licensing agreement to make sure you operate in the safe zone.

The Value of Stock Images

  • Find a picture of literally anything.
  • Time saving.
  • Always available for download and use.
  • Always adding to the catalog of available photos.

Benefits of Using Your Own Photos

  • Super authentic.
  • Give prospects and customers an inside perspective of your business.
  • Builds trust.
  • Every photo will be exactly what you’re looking for.

Some people are risk takers. They would rather ask for forgiveness than proactively ask for permission. That is totally fine if you are comfortable with the forgiveness coming with a large fine.

If you are like most people, you have better things to spend your time and money on.

Investing in great photos-whether you take them yourself or purchase the rights to use photos from one of the stock photo sites-is an extremely valuable piece of your marketing strategy and online presence. How you portray yourself and your business online directly affects your success. People like knowing who they are working with and photos add so much value to your story.

The time and effort you spend proactively sourcing your photos legally will serve you well, and if you’re looking for a little more guidance on how to find great photos to polish your online presence we can help. It’s what we do.