How to Avoid Becoming an Accidental Image Thief

using images, image copyright, Google images, free images

Image copyright is not a joke. I had a client who contacted me in distress because she found herself in an unexpected lawsuit. She was baffled as to how this had happened to her. She was merely trying to put together an invitation for her non-profit’s fundraiser. Trust me, she wasn’t exactly the criminal-type—she earns her living by serving those struggling with addiction and homelessness. It was a completely innocent mistake. She became an accidental image thief.

Image Copyright

You may think that as long at there is no copyright mark, that you are good to go, but that is because we think of something as copyrighted only when it has been registered as a copyright. That’s only an extra measure of protection. As this article states, “As soon as you type words, click the shutter on your camera, … apply paint to canvas or paper or lay down tracks for your next hit, you’ve got a copyright…”

Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss in the kind of issue that can land you in a lawsuit, so I’d like to take the time to send out a little PSA so that you can avoid a legal mess of your own and because I know that none of you would knowingly want to steal someone else’s artwork.

Google images are not fair game

“I just got it on Google images!” While Google images can be a great resource for pulling memes to amuse your friends, we often forget that Google isn’t pulling these images out of thin air or some free library of images. It is pulling them from existing websites and these images belong to the website they came from (hopefully).

Don’t copy something you like

I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I was told this often as a child when I would get upset when others would copy my work in art class. While I have learned to take a compliment a little better these days, I still get a bit upset about imitation as a professional. Mimicking work you enjoy can be a great personal learning tool, but claiming it as your own original work is another form of theft. If there are styles you admire and enjoy, give them a try, but make them your own, not just an imitation. This is how more beautiful things come to be. If we all just imitated the art we liked, original art would die.

Ask permission of the artist

If you find work that you really want to use, you should contact the artist and tell them how much you love their work (it makes us feel all tingly inside), tell them how you would like to use it, and ask permission. Don’t be taken aback if there might be a price tag to use their images. To keep doing what we do best, we artists need to get a little moola here and there. Also don’t be taken aback if we say no. We may have created this artwork for a specific person/company/cause and it might just need to stay that way. But, hey, thanks for asking!

Credit the artist

If you do get the go-ahead to use the artwork, give us a shoutout. Tag us. Give us a little credit line. It helps us get more exposure and work. Do this especially if they gave you permission to use the artwork for free. It’s a little “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” Let’s all help each other out a little more.

Use stock images

Then there is stock imagery. There’s all kinds from all places. There are loads of both free and paid stock sites. Check them out. Disclaimer: be sure to read the usage rights/licensing terms. Some images are “royalty free.” This means you pay for them once and can use them as much as you want. Others are “rights managed.” These ones are tricky because you can only use them for certain applications and a certain number of times. I’d generally say to steer away from those for the sake of simplicity. On free stock sites there are often usage rights/licensing terms listed there, too. Give them a quick read. One warning about free stock sites is that very often the images are smaller, so you may be limited with certain uses because they can only scale so large. But, hey, it is still free. Pretty good deal for free.

Here are my go-to stock sites:

Free stock images:

Paid stock images:

Create your own images

Strap on your creativity and go make the thing you need!

Hire someone!

Creating your own images not your cup of tea? That’s okay! That’s why you have people like me! Hire the designer/photographer/letterer; etc that you need. We love doing what we do. Yes, we will ask to be paid, (again, gotta bring home the bacon) but think of what you are doing as an investment…because it is! Contact me or another awesome artist you know and let them join you in making awesome imagery for your blog, company, wedding; etc. It’s what we do!

I hope this was helpful! If you have any questions or thoughts to add or noticed something I missed, holler at me! Hope you have an excellent weekend, my honest friends, and don’t let yourself become an accidental image thief!

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