Why You Should Never Use an Image from Google on Your Website

Imagine it: It’s a normal day like any other. You check your mail (or email) and see a letter from a company you don’t recognize. Curious, you open it, only to find a sternly worded notice indicating that you owe hundreds if not thousands of dollars because you’ve infringed on copyright for using an image from Google. 

Is this really happening? It certainly feels like a nightmare. 

Unfortunately, this scenario plays out every day for business owners all across the country. And depending on the amount owed, such a letter can be legitimately terrifying. 

Now, if you’ve received a letter accusing you of copyright infringement, first know this: you’re not alone. 

Many people receive such letters for images they’ve included in their blog posts or online articles. Often, they’ll find these images through a simple Google search and then just add the image without attribution or even an inkling of who owns the copyright. 

Then the letter comes, and it’s undoubtedly upsetting to receive. GettyImages, PicRights, and many other companies are notorious for sending these out and often ask for several hundred or even thousands of dollars to settle the claim. 

As you hold this letter in your hands, it’s likely you’d break out into a cold sweat. What on earth are you supposed to do? Even when clear instructions are provided on the notice, it can be unclear what your immediate first step should be. And if you don’t have the funds to settle the claim immediately? Talk about stressful! 

We know what it’s like

So far, we’ve imagined a scenario, but it’s vital you know this is based on real-life incidents. We had a client that received a notice about a very old blog post that had a copyrighted image used on it. They probably got it off Google and certainly didn’t have a license or remember downloading it.

They were a small business and had to pay $800 to settle, which we don’t have to tell you, is a lot of money to just conjure up out of thin air. 

And again, this isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s another example from PicRights one of our clients received:

PicRights letter

The importance of responding immediately

If you have received a letter from Getty Images accusing you of copyright infringement, it’s important to take it seriously. The notice should highlight instructions on what to do next, so be sure to read it carefully and make a plan of action. 

Ignoring the letter or failing to take appropriate action can result in costly legal battles and damage to your reputation. And that’s definitely something you don’t want to have happen. 

It can be so scary getting a letter like this. We get it. And the temptation to run and hide when faced with something so serious is immense. But doing so won’t make the issue go away. 

We received an “Unauthorized Use of Getty Images Imagery” from gettyimages.com back in 2016. It was a jaw hit the floor moment. 

But after taking a beat to think and regroup, we were able to solve the issue quickly. Thankfully, we had purchased the image and were able to send them our purchase order proving we had the rights to it.

GettyImages letter

Yes, it was a situation of a false claim, but it was still stressful. Fortunately, we had a license for the image and were able to resolve it quickly. 

Steps to take if you receive a letter for using an image from Google

We’ve outlined an imaginary scenario and described situations both our clients and we personally faced. But what are you to do if you receive a letter like this? Good question! 

Here, we’ve outlined the steps you need to take:

1. Do not panic

As natural as it is – and perhaps unavailable to some degree – try not to panic. Definitely easier said than done, but panicking won’t solve the problem. In fact, it could just drive you to making bad decisions. So when you get a letter like this, your best bet is to set it down for a bit, take a deep breath, and try to calm down. 

Then, when you’re feeling better, you can come back to the letter to formulate a plan of action.

2. Verify the claim

Now, before you start writing out a check to somebody or removing images from your website, take the time and effort required to verify the claim being made in the letter. There’s a slim possibility it’s not even from a real copyright holder. Scammers are everywhere, after all, so do your due diligence. 

You can verify a claim by looking up the address on the letter – or where the sender indicates you should mail a check or send a payment. Do a Google search to confirm this is a real business and the associated addresses are actually attached to the company in question. 

Also, the letter should include some evidence of what you did wrong. It should provide a link to the image(s) you were unauthorized to use. 

3. Review the usage

Once you’ve confirmed the letter is real, go to your website and verify where the image is currently being used. Take note of where it’s located on your site and in what context. Then look through your records to see if you have purchased a license to use this image. 

It could just be a situation where the company couldn’t verify on their end that you had the appropriate permissions, so double check if you do. 

4. Seek legal advice

Once you’ve confirmed that you were unauthorized to use this image, you should consult a legal expert immediately. They can help you understand copyright law and what your options are in terms of settling this matter.

5. Remove the infringing content

Of course, if you find that the notice you’ve received is correct in its claims, you should take down the copyright material immediately. Often, this won’t absolve you of the wrongdoing, and a fee will likely still need to be paid to the company that contacted you, but it’s a first step to setting things right. 

6. Respond to the demand letter

Next, you should send a reply to the notice sender. This is where the legal advice you receive will be invaluable. Your response will need to be worded in such a way that presents your case in the best light.

No matter the specifics of this reply, it should at least include an acknowledgement that you received the notice and whether or not you have an appropriate license to use the image. If you didn’t have permission to use the image, mention that you’ve taken it down. 

7. Negotiate or settle

Lastly, to put the issue to rest, you’ll need to settle the claim, and this often involves paying the proposed fee. If you wish to have the fee reduced, you can attempt to negotiate a reduced fee with your lawyer’s guidance. If paying the fee would cause an undue financial burden, you may be able to negotiate a payment plan as well. 

4 alternatives to using an image from Google

It should be clear by now why staying away from Google Images for finding images for your website is a good idea. But where can you find high-quality images without having to search all over the place? 

Good question! There are several ways to source images that don’t involve using photos without proper permission. Here’s a few:

1. Reasonably priced stock image sites

If you have the budget, a stock photo site might be a good investment. There are plenty that offer image licenses for a reasonable price like iStockphoto or Depositphotos

2. Free open source sites

Now, if you don’t have the money to spend on stock images, there are plenty of open source sites out there, too, that offer free, Creative Commons licensed images. Unsplash is a popular one with a great selection. Pexels is a good choice, too. 


3. Public domain images

You could always opt for public domain images as well. They have no copyright attached and can be used however you’d like without attribution. Pixabay is a good example.

4. Your own photography

Last but not least, you could always use your own  photography on your website in lieu of sourcing images. This might not work for every website type, but most people have smartphones with high-quality cameras now, so snapping a few photos is a reasonable solution. 

Want help with your website?

Whether you’re looking to build a site from scratch or need guidance about whether or not to use an image from Google, we’ll walk you through building a website and will recommend royalty free sources if you’re unable to take your own photos.

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Johnny Flash Productions

Johnny Flash Productions is a creative agency based outside of Washington D.C. that focuses on digital strategy, web design and development, graphic design and event production that helps businesses get better results from their marketing.