Free Images

Free Images

Did you know that so-called free image websites pose a massive risk to businesses? Many clients that have used free image websites, and then received letters of demand saying that they’re infringing copyright. How it actually works is websites like Pixabay, and other free image websites have the big heading on the page say, “You can use these images for free, royalty free, forever free, for any commercial purposes,” it might even say, “Under creative commons license.” Let’s take Pixabay for example, I can upload any images I want to Pixabay, there’s no quality control. 

So I can upload an image that belongs to you, that you own the copyright in and then down the road someone else comes, sees that image and starts to use it. I didn’t have authority to upload that image because you, as the copyright owner, didn’t give authority. So basically what happens is that people who have no right to the image, upload them to these sites and then anybody uses them. Which is copyright infringement, if you use an image from one of those sites. Now, if you scroll down to the very bottom of the sites, it will say terms and conditions and every single one that I’ve looked at in the terms and conditions in some way, says they take no responsibility for ownership of the copyright. 

They take no responsibility for copyright infringement and they actually say in their terms and conditions, you use these images at your own risk, and that you could be sued for copyright infringement. So why is it such a big deal? Who cares? I’ve done another video on responding to copyright letters of demand, and I can post that link here as well. But basically what happens is the copyright owner finds out that you’re using the image, and don’t think they won’t find out because they’ve actually got bots on the internet, which search the internet, and look for the images and will eventually find you. So they look for images that have been used without a proper written license agreement, and then they get their debt collector involved, and then they send you a letter of demand. 

The most common one is sent on behalf of Getty images, at the moment they’re asking roughly $1,500 per image. One of my clients had 10 of these so-called free images on their site, and they received a demand for $15,000, so it’s really important. Now there is Wiki Media Commons which is a different site. This site lets you use the images, but the images are put online by the copyright owners, so when you post an image on Wiki media Commons you have to actually tick the box and confirm that you own the copyright. So somebody else using it can use it for free, but you have to read the license attached to that particular image. 

Usually when you use it from Wiki Media Commons you have to attribute the photographer, or the copyright owner. So if you use my image that I’ve uploaded to Wiki Media Commons, in your blog or your website, you need to say, “Photographer, Cathryn Warburton.” You can’t just use it without following the requirements of that particular license.

 So what can you do to avoid copyright infringement? And are there any sites that are safe? Well one that is safe is Canva, because they offer some free images, and then they offer some sold images. What they do is they give you a few of the not so great images for free, or you’ve got the choice of paying for some better ones. Canva free images are fine because it’s part of a bigger system, but that’s really the only one that I’ve discovered where the free images are genuinely free. How can you avoid the problems with free images? 

Sign up to a paid image bank, one which is royalty free, so you don’t have to pay ongoing royalties. Make sure you check the license terms, to see what you are allowed to do with those images, and what you’re not allowed to do with those images. Some of the image banks only let you use if for a certain amount of time. So if you use it for one year, then you have to pay a renewal fee, and if you don’t pay the renewal fee, then you’re infringing copyright again. But most of them let you use it forever royalty free, though there are usually some limitations, and often the limitation is you’re not allowed to use the image as a product. 

So, for example if I took an image from one of those sites, and I created a t-shirt, and people bought the t-shirt not because it’s a great t-shirt, but because of the great image, then I’m using the image as the product, and that’s generally not allowed under those kinds of arrangements. Other things you’re not allowed to do with those royalty free images that you’ve paid for, is usually you’re not allowed to use them to file for a trademark. Because a trademark means that others are not allowed to use that image and you don’t have the rights to stop others from using that particular image. 

I hope you found this helpful, there really is no such thing as free images online. You can buy images from a reputable source for a dollar an image, or even less than a dollar sometimes. But it’s just not worth the risk of receiving a letter of demand for $1,500 per image, so don’t use free images.  All the best with your business.

Cathryn Warburton About the author

The Legal Lioness. Overcoming severe bullying as a child instilled in her a passion to protect others. As a skilled litigator, she indulges in her dream to push-back against business-bullies who target her clients. She is an international award-winning lawyer and patent attorney and 5-time published author. Cathryn bullet-proofs her client’s businesses and protects them like a mama lioness protecting her cubs. She makes sure that no business is left without access to affordable, easy-to-understand legal information. She does this through her books, proactive legal workshops and 1-2-1 legal services.