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Google Image Search – A Cautionary Tale Of Finding And Using Images Online

A law book with a gavel - Copyright law

This hasn’t been the first time I’ve gotten an email like this, but hopefully it’ll be the last.

About a month ago, the copyright compliance department at Getty Images wrote me an email and sent a letter claiming that one of the images that they represent was being used on my blog illegally. Not knowing what they were talking about, afterall most if not all my images are either mine or purchased royalty-free, I queried back. Apparently I had taken a photo from Google Image Search and used it in a blog post.

Don’t Rely On Google Image Search For Free Images. EVER!

When I use Google Image search I always use the advanced tools to make sure the image is clear for reuse. Apparently that’s not reliable.

According to my lawyer and searches around the web, Getty is notorious for planting images in the hopes of catching and cashing in on people using their images illegally.

Now, I’m not going after them for trying to protect their copyright on images. I’m not even complaining about their tactics, though they’re a bit scummy. What I’m upset with is their assertion of how much an image is worth and their retroactive demand that you take down the image and still pay a fine. The image I “used illegally” was of two people shaking hands at an event. It was clearly staged and unremarkable. But when searching on the Getty site it came back with a huge pricetag. I took it upon myself to look for similar images, including on, Getty-owned, iStockPhoto. Similar images were around $33 USD.

According to Sam Brown (not sure if that’s his actual name), who works in the compliance department at Getty, if you use an image from the non-royalty-free Getty catalog, you are actually renting the image and have to pay a reoccuring fee if you intend on using the image.

Good to know.

I’m not claiming innocence here. They caught me. And as March 4, 2016, I paid the $249 USD, to make Getty go away.

Heed This Warning And The Alternatives

I want this post to be a public service to everyone out there to be careful where you get your images. When in doubt go to iStockPhoto.com (royalty-free), Pond5.com (royalty-free), or any other royalty-free places and buy an image. If buying an image isn’t in the cards, take your own or go to sites like Pixabay.com and get a free one. But keep in mind, even this is risky, because even if it’s “free” and in the public domain, there is no guarentee of this. Proceed at your own risk.

Why Not Fight?

Well you can. And I’m not saying don’t. But there tons of articles on the Web that pro-port on how to get out of paying the fine. I tried a few with no avail. In the end, just be careful and keep things legal.

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By Seth

Seth Goldstein is a Digital Marketer, Technologist, Agency Owner, and Father.

He is based out of Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

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