Cornish Pixel copyright blog

Stop Stealing Images from Google.

My dad’s a copyright lawyer. Not quite as exciting as being an astronaut or fighter-pilot, but bear with me. He called last night to ask whether we had permission to use the images we have on the Cornish Pixel website: “Yes, Dad. Of course we do. We do know about these things, being a digital agency an’all that!”

Although slightly irked by his question, he was right to ask. We chatted about Getty Images and their aggressive pursuit of ‘innocent’ individuals and businesses who have illegally used their content (Getty is renowned for demanding thousands of pounds in damages for copyright infringement). A quick scan of Google will lead you to countless forums and articles discussing the unfairness and unreasonable nature of Getty’s requests, plus several solicitors looking to fight the corners of all the innocents.

Unfortunately, being naïve to the laws of copyright will be no excuse if you or your web designer illegitimately use an image that you do not own or have permission to use. Therefore, to prevent Getty or an aggrieved photographer beating down your front door with a caveman club, follow Papa Pixel’s tips to avoid copyright infringement:

Do NOT steal pictures from Google Images.

Google Images is not a freebie picture library for you to thieve images and copy/paste onto your website or blog. It is simply a visual index of all the images present on the internet. Google does not produce its own images and therefore does not own the copyright to any. The images found are usually other people’s protected work (copyright automatically belongs to the creator) or they’re images other website owners have nicked without permission.

To find out whether an image on Google is available to use, take the following steps:

  1. Go to Google Images – settings – advanced search.
  2. In the ‘all these words’ box, enter your search terms e.g. ‘man eating pizza.’
  3. Scroll down to the ‘usage rights’ section.
  4. Select ‘free to use, share, modify, even commercially’.
  5. Click ‘Advanced Search’.

In an ideal world, you’ll now have lots of images of men eating pizza which you can use without penalty. However, even this method isn’t a guarantee you won’t be in breach of copyright should you take the image. Google depends entirely on the image creators to correctly label their pictures with ‘public domain’ or carry a licence allowing use and redistribution.

Therefore, you will need to verify the legitimacy of the image licence and check the exact terms of use – not easy, as even Google has no way of knowing whether an image is actually or lawfully licensed!  You’ll need to do a bit of investigative work yourself. Firstly, visit the website where the image is being displayed. If it is not immediately obvious what the terms of use are, if any, have a look on the ‘terms and conditions’ page.

If you cannot find any permissions information, I recommend sourcing an alternative image.

Create your own images and protect them from the swipers.

Google is no stranger to the courtroom. Many a disgruntled artist has sought retribution against Google’s thumbnail displays of their images. However, Google is a search engine which crawls websites to index relevant content. If an image does not use any ‘disallow’ commands in the website’s code, Google will assume it can proceed with making temporary copies of the content and display thumbnail images accordingly.

Googlebot (the crawling program) will ignore images if the website’s owner uses the ‘disallow’ command. If you’re unsure as to whether your personal copyrighted images carry the necessary ‘disallow’ code, you’ll need to check with the website developer who should be able to tell you in seconds.

If you are the original creator of an image, copyright exists automatically with you, without the need to pepper your work with the little copyright logo. However, it is still advisable to use the copyright symbol as it reminds others that the image is protected by copyright and that you are aware of the basics of copyright law which might just be enough to shoo someone along.

Using your own pictures on your website is an ideal solution to many a problem. Not only will you save time and money by not sourcing/purchasing content from an image library, but your pictures will be original one-offs which no one else will have.  The internet is cluttered with plagiarised content; be original and craft your own creations.

Don’t presume a photo taken from an image library is fair game.

Some image libraries make it very difficult to identify whether an image is freely available to use. The copyright permissions information can be unclear or hidden away in cryptic legalese in the site’s T&Cs.

If the permissions information is ambiguous or unavailable, choose another reputable image library and make sure you’re clear on what you can/cannot do.

Luckily, there are many websites available which provide legitimate royalty-free images. But, please note, royalty free does not mean the images are free to use. There will be a fee to pay (varying prices) which means you can continue to use the image without paying any future royalty payments to the image house or the creator. Recommended sites are:, and Just remember to thoroughly check their T&Cs!

Do not use images of celebrities on your website.

Unless you have paid for the rights to display that photo of Tom Cruise, or even better, actually taken the photo of him yourself, you are not allowed to use the image. It is simply not yours to take, rather the property of the photographer who probably never meant for the image to be used on a website selling teeth whitening services.

Thou shalt not steal.

Ultimately, you must assume that all content you find on the internet is protected by copyright. Whether this is a photograph, an infographic, a logo or a 50,000-word essay; they all belong to someone else. Whilst you may not think you are doing any harm in pinching someone else’s photo of a beautiful beach, you are breaking the law; theft is theft.

So, if you’ve been using images from Google for your website, blog or marketing collateral, stop now. Pleading innocence will not prevent prosecution. At best you’ll receive a ‘cease and desist’ letter firmly asking you to remove the image, but, at worst, you could be expected to pay thousands of pounds in damages.

For further information, visit: and

Thanks for reading.

Have a good day.


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