Using copyrighted images that you don’t have permission for can cause you serious trouble. What seems like and easy way to avoid paying for images can end up costing you a lot more.
Every image is copyrighted by default. The copyright is owned by the person who produced that image. They can sell the rights to that image in many different ways or they could license it for use for free. Just because a website doesn’t have a copyright statement doesn’t mean that you can use their images for free.
I found this image on a website…
Clients often come to us with images that they want to put on their website that they have found on other peoples websites. Sometimes they find them by using Google’s Image Search.
These images all belong to someone else and if we were to use them we would be stealing them and passing them off as our own.
It is possible to show an image from another website without actually having it on your web server. This is called hotlinking. Your web page displays the image directly from they other website’s server. This isn’t an infringement of copyright but it is still a very bad idea.
Using images like this uses bandwidth from the other person’s website. It may actually be costing them money to show images on your website. This is known as bandwidth theft and is considered a very rude thing to do on the Internet.
The other problem with this is that you are always at the mercy of the website that is hosting the image. If they remove the image or block your site the image will disappear from your website without notice. Sometimes website owners like to get their own back when you hotlink to them. Some do this by changing the image to a notice that says something like ‘Don’t Hotlink!’ but others have been known to be more extreme and swap them for offensive images and pornography. Do you want that on your website?
Penalties for Copyright theft
If you are using someone’s images without permission they can send a takedown letter to your ISP. Internet Service Providers like to avoid the legal complications of copyright and often comply immediately with takedown notices without contacting you. The first time you realise there is a problem is when people start complaining that they can’t get to your site anymore. The ISP has probably pulled your entire site due to breaching the terms and conditions of their hosting agreement.
Beyond this you could be sued for your use of copyrighted images depending on whether doing so made you money or caused the copyright owner to lose money. However the potential loss of your site (even if for a short time) should be enough to make you avoid stealing images.
Alternatives to using copyrighted images
There are a number of sites on the web that will let you use their images for free. Some of them will do so on the understanding that you link back to them but they don’t often have very many or very good images in their collections.
Another option is images that have been licensed as Creative Commons (CC) by their creators. These can be found on both Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. There are different types of Creative Commons license that allow you to do different things with them. Make sure you check the details of the license before you use an image.
Royalty Free Images
Royalty Free Images are not free. You have to pay an initial fee to use the image but you don’t have to pay a royalty every time the image is used. The good thing about royalty free images is that you don’t have to include an attribution to the image creator on the web page.
Lately we have been getting Stock Photos from 123rf.com who have a large catalogue of images that are available in different sizes and very reasonable prices. This is a much quicker option than having to trawl through free images sites and Creative Commons sites for the image you want.
Never, ever, ever
So there you have it. There is never a reason to use copyrighted images. It is illegal, can cause you loads of problems and there are much better alternatives available.