The Risk in Using Free Photos Found on the Web – And How to Avoid It

A lot of people needing images for their business or project, and looking for them online, often come across “free photos sites” –be it accidentally or intentionally– offering photos that look ok in terms of quality and are supposedly free to download and use. Whether the budget is tight or not, it's a very tempting offer.

Some people also tend to look for photos using Google Images search engine, ready to “right-click-download” on the results they find suitable for their needs, and convinced these images are free to use as they are indexed by Google.

If you ever fell within either one of this groups, then be ready to be shocked: you have been inviting a lot of potentially big and very serious legal risks into your life. Free photo sites and in general all free image resources on the web are full of irregularities, and more likely than not the images found there are not safe to use in your projects.

Here you will learn exactly why free photos from web are so dangerous for you and your business, and how to avoid legal problems when it comes to photo usage. Read on!

Using Photos from Google Images: A Huge No-No

This is something that everybody needs to know: you cannot, CANNOT do right-click-download on images from Google Images results and use them in your own work. It's illegal, and it's a very simple way to get into trouble using images online.

We won't overwhelm you with legal vocabulary, all you need to know is that 1) The only person who can grant usage of an image in any way, is the copyright owner of the image, and 2) Google does not own copyright for the wide majority, for not saying all, the images they index.

Therefore, Google has no authority to let you use the images legally, and truth is they do not do it. All Google does is indexing images from the web, and displaying them in previews, including image source. But most of these photos are copyrighted: someone owns them, and if you use any of these photos in your work without their permission and they find out about it, they have the right to sue you and demand compensation.

Given there's every day more and more effective tools to track images in use on the Internet, your attempt to save yourself some bucks by using images from Google can easily turn into a huge legal bill.

Free Photo Sites: The Hidden Risk

The web is full of websites offering free images, that you can download and use in your designs free of charge. For any creative or business owner working with a reduced budget, and even for those who just love a chance to save money, these sites are very tempting. The images are mostly ok quality, and so you may think it's the best way to get visuals without spending.

These sites usually offer images under a license that permits usage without paying fees, often one of the variants of Creative Commons license. Some require you credit the site, the author or both, but they all state you can download and use the images, even commercially, for free.

Where is the problem then? At the very root: in the images. Remember we said only the copyright owner can grant permission for the usage of an image? Well, majority of these free photo hubs do not police nor review the legal status of the images they offer –and most of them allow users to upload images for free use as well–, mainly because they don't have enough resources to do so.

If the person who uploaded them is not the copyright owner, then the free license is invalid, and you could be sued by the owner if they find you using their photo. And that's only the beginning.

For an image to be safe to use commercially, all the rights have to be cleared. Image copyright is only one of them. If the photo includes people, each of them need to sign a model release document allowing the use of their likeliness. And the same goes for private property, including brands, specific designs and even landmarks. When these rights are not cleared, even if the copyright owner has given permission to use the photo for free, you may encounter legal trouble. You may be sued by a model who never consented to have their image used for commercial purposes, for example.

As the free photo sites do not control this, there is no way for you to know the copyright owner, the models and the property owners have all consented to have the image used commercially. While you might think you're doing things right because you used a proper image source and a proper image license, you could receive an unpleasant surprise, and end up paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in compensations to authors and models, and legal fees.

How to Avoid the Risk in Free Photos

If your budget demands you to find images that are legal to use but free of charge, you can do it, but know it'll take more time and effort than just search and download.

Basically, when you find a photo that fits your purposes, it will be up to you to do the homework: research to find the copyright owner and make sure all permissions are in place for your intended use.

An easier way is via stock photo agencies. Some of these companies include a “free photo” section on their platforms, as a bonus service for customers. Being image licensing professionals, these agencies review all images to make sure they are ok to use. Of course, the free offer is limited, but if you are lucky you will find what you are looking for and will save the hassle of checking for copyright and permits.

The Best Way to Get Legally-Safe, High Quality Photos

The thing with free photos is that, logically, you get what you pay for. If you want high quality images, that are commercially valuable, professionally shot, and completely safe to use, then you have to invest. The good news is this does not mean spending thousands and thousands in photos. You can get really great, compelling images for as little as a few cents each, at stock photo agencies.

Stock photo agencies sell Royalty Free licenses for images, which give you multiple usage rights for a very low one-time fee. Learn more about Royalty Free Images and their great benefits for your business.

These companies are specialized in image licensing, and they take legal status of their media very seriously. They all have dedicated teams that review every file, making sure all the releases and required documents are in place, and they also check them for technical and content quality. They aim at providing customers with only great, legal images.

Most of the Top Stock Photo Agencies have huge online libraries, with up to hundreds of millions of images. They have good search engines, galleries and categories, to help you browse/search and find the right photos for you, license them and download them in very little time and in a few simple steps.

Best of all, they have very cheap prices. A Royalty Free image costs $1-$20 when buying on demand, and as little as $0.25 each if you get a stock photo subscription.

If you could put a price on quality and the tranquility of knowing you are using legally-verified content, we think “a dollar or less” comes out as a real bargain. Don't you?

Be Legal-Risk Free with Royalty Free Stock Photos

So now you know it. Royalty Free images are a great resource to get high quality imagery for your projects without killing your pocket, and without any hidden risks.

Investing a little in paid, but safe to use photos is a very smart choice for any creative, publisher, marketer or business owner needing compelling imagery for their work.

If you want to know where to find the best images for you, go right ahead to our Buy Images Online section, we have you covered!

Say goodbye to potential legal issues and enjoy the quality and safety of Royalty Free Stock Photos.

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