When the web business started booming many years ago, it was a bit like the Wild West.  Building a web page then as now (aside from the technical challenges) involved writing copy and supplementing that copy with visuals.  Using images on your websiteBy visuals, I’m referring to the use of website graphics of course…the graphics you use on your website to liven up your page copy, your sliders, show what products look like, that sort of thing.

Whether those graphics were displayed directly on the page, in a downloadable PDF, an interactive presentation (think about a home page slider or an old school ‘Flash’ file), or even a marketing email, those images had to come from somewhere.

Sometimes (very rarely for most businesses) this meant creating them from scratch.  However, since most small businesses don’t want to spend money for that creative time, they generally end up buying that imagery from a stock web site like iStock.com.  You’ve seen the classic ‘handshake’ image or the ‘suits around the conference table’ type shots where everyone is smiling while they conquer the business world?

Finding Images For Your Website

Well, somewhere along the way as more and more (and more) websites have arrived across the web world, images have become readily available for almost anything you can imagine.  There is absolutely no technical barrier to searching for, saving and reusing an image searched off of images.google.com for instance.

Oftentimes in the past, we’ve had clients send us images to use on their own websites.  For instance, a hotel consultant sends us a photo of a hotel client he worked with and we’d post to his website, that sort of thing.  Once in a blue moon, we’d hear from a client (maybe a handful of times in 15 years) who said that they were contacted by an attorney and asked to remove one of these images from their website.

So, we know that sort of thing must happen a bunch.  The aggressive growth of e-commerce websites (thanks to technological advancements in web building platforms over time) has meant that lots of small business owners are loading lots of product images onto their store sites.  Where do these images come from and are they okay to use?

According to some law firms that handle a growing number of copyright infringement claims on the web, the likelihood of accidentally using an image that really shouldn’t be used is a mistake that could cost store owners.

What Is ‘Copyright’ Exactly?

What IS copyright law though?  In short, the law protects the works of any person who creates work, or ‘creative work’.  As soon as a file (created or taken with a camera) is saved on a hard drive, recorded on video, etc, copyright protection applies.  As long as the work possesses some creative spark, copyright law can protect that work.

What is the penalty for using images without permission?  Well, tough to say, but in extreme cases (whatever that means), using images (product or lifestyle for instance for your site) without permission from the photographer or copyright holder is considered a crime in the United States.  That crime could carry (again, extreme cases) up to a $150,000 penalty.

The reality is, most small websites guilty of reusing images off a google image search is more likely to be asked to simply take that image down as we’ve seen with one or two clients over the years (again, in nearly 20 years).

With that said, it’s just easier these days to consider what images may legally be used on your website.  There are a number of things to consider when sourcing your next product (or lifestyle) image to stay safe:

  1. Take your own photos
  2. Use your manufacturer’s product photos they send you directly.
  3. Pull your photos from Creative Commons
  4. Buy your photos from stock sites like istock.com
  5. Pull image from Google specifically labeled for reuse