When Can You Borrow and Use An Image Online?


A business I work with recently posted an update on Twitter with an amusing cartoon that even had their logo in it. I was surprised because I didn't think they'd hired a cartoonist. So, I sent them a note and they were surprised… they had hired a social media company to engage and grow their following and they'd posted it.

After a discussion with the company, they were even more shocked to find out that every image, every meme, and every cartoon that was shared was done so without the permission of the company. They fired the company and went back and removed every image that was shared online.

This isn't uncommon. I continuously see this over and over again. One of my clients was even threatened with a lawsuit after they used an image that a search engine said was free to use actually wasn't. They had to pay several thousand dollars to make the problem go away.

  • Businesses are most guilty of modifying stolen images for advertising, with 49% of bloggers and social media users stealing images, as well as 28% of businesses

Here's a recent abuse by a company that used a photo of my podcast studio, but overlaid their own logo on it:

Given the investment I made in both the studio as well as the photography, it's ridiculous that someone would just grab it and throw their own logo on it. I've sent notifications to all the organizations.

For peace of mind, we always do one of the following with our own site and our clients:

  1. I hire photographers and ensure that my business has full-rights to use and distribute the photos I hire them to take with no limitations. That means I can use them for my sites, multiple client sites, print materials, or even just to give to the client for use however they'd like. Hiring a photographer isn't just an advantage for licensing, it also has amazing impact on a site. There's nothing like a local site having local landmarks or their own employees in their online photos. It personalizes the sites and adds a great level of engagement.
  2. I verify licensing for every image we use or distribute. Even on our site, I ensure there's a paper trail for each image. That doesn't mean we pay for every image, though. An example is the infographic below – used with permission as specified in the original posting by Berify.

Berify is a reverse image search to help you find stolen images and videos. They have an image matching algorithm and can  search over 800 million images along with image data from all of the major image search engines.

When it comes to photography and stolen images, the online users – who perpetuate the theft – prefer to think of it as a victimless crime for which they need no apology. However, professional photographers and hobbyists know the reality – besides being unethical, image theft is illegal and expensive. Berify

Here's the full infographic, A Snapshot of Online Image Theft. It explains the problem, how rights and fair usage actually work (which far too many companies abuse), and what you should do if you find your image stolen.

Berify Image Protection

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