It’s an unfortunately common misconception among people who don’t work in any kind of photographic industry that one can simply take any image found on Google’s image search and use it for any purpose, free of charge. The public is, in general, woefully ignorant of copyright laws and how they favor an image’s creator. Even worse, there are online “mentors” spreading bad information.
Take YouTuber and e-commerce “educator” Dan Dasilva for an example of the kind of appalling ignorance out there. He was sued for stealing images via Google image search for use in sales, and teaching others to do the same, then made a 13-minute video complaining about being sued for stealing and calling photographers who dare to protect their work “malicious.” To those of us with even a rudimentary understanding of image copyright law, his “understanding” is ludicrous. Unfortunately, it’s also prevalent.
One time for the people in the back, nice and loud: you cannot use copyrighted images you find on google image searches without permission. You cannot just find images online and use them for your own purposes without any permission from or compensation to their creator and expect no repercussions. If you do so, you may find yourself the recipient of an invoice for the image used, a take-down notice, or even a lawsuit.
If an image creator wants to allow their work to be used for free, that’s their decision to make. It is not the decision of ‘Joe Google-user’ who needs a product shot for their e-commerce website.
MONITORING AND PROTECTING YOUR WORK ONLINE
There are steps you can take to protect your photography online. It is helpful, but not required, to register your work with the Copyright Office, for photographers in the United States, anyway. Barring certain situations, like work-for-hire, the person who clicks the shutter owns the photo automatically, but registering your copyright can help if you do need to take action.
You can use reverse images searches like Google’s own or TinEye to find where your work may be used without permission. You can upload an image or give a URL to the photo online and the search engine will scour the web for images that match.
If you find your work being used inappropriately, it’s up to you whether you let it slide or take action, and what kind of action that may be. For very small infringers or infringers who aren’t using an image commercially, you may not care to do anything at all. If, however, you find someone using your work to make money, you stand to be compensated for the use of your work or at least have the offending image removed.
If you’re in the mood to be irritated, watch Dan’s video below: