Images make everything from a website to a social media page look good. And we all know “a picture’s worth a thousand words!”  However, some images are TOXIC, and can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars.  Out of your pocket.  Make sure you’re not an unwitting victim when selecting the images to use on your website, blog posts, and emails.  Here’s what you need to know…

The stats are in:  images make content more compelling – in an email, in presentations, on Facebook, in blog posts, and on websites. Images are so effective that Pinterest and Instagram are social network sites that are completely devoted to images, and they get more popular every day. But before you get all image OCD, read this blog!

You want to use images.  We’re all agreed on that point, right?

But all images are NOT created equal. Sometimes the very best images can be very bad… for you and your bank account…and we may as well throw in reputation while we’re at it.

I hear you thinking… what could make an image so costly?

Great Question!!  Read on…

If selecting and using an image results in you getting a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer, or a bill for $800  – or more – from the image copyright holder, that would taint that image somewhat. Right?

Here’s the deal: if you use an image that has a copyright, an image protected by law, even if there is no copyright on the image itself – even if you use it accidentally thinking it’s free to use, you could end up with one of those sorts of letters and maybe one or more of those invoices/demand for payment.

Here’s a story from something that happened to the Minneapolis Star Tribune many years ago.  They ran an inside story on a subject of very little consequence, and needed an image to go with the story.  They found one in their “library” — and used it.  Ended up that the image they used, which was attributed to a staff photographer, was a photo of a VERY FAMOUS photograph, taken when the staff photographer was covering a show (for the famous photographer) at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  Ends up that the son of this photographer lived close to the publisher of the paper, and that use, even though an accident, cost the paper over a hundred thousand dollars.  OUCH!

Let me tell you one more short story to soldifiy my point for you, and then I’ll circle this all up for you. OK?

In conjunction with a 2015 movie release, many of the cast members of that movie created some hilarious “stock photo” images – you know, the obligatory group shots of people around a table, or someone standing in front of a chart, smiling at the arrows headed up to success?

Like this one – and yes, that is Vince Vaughn, right up front there:

I must admit, when these images were all over Facebook for a week or two, I read through the comments on several of the posts (mainly from AdWeek and Mashable). What got me was how many people were saying they were going to use these photos on their websites or in ad campaigns.

HOLD THE PHONE! Talk about an expensive lesson in the making for each of them…Yowza!

Can you guess why?

Here it is: Getty Images, which owns iStock, the image provider who had the images, only licensed these images for editorial use. What does that mean? It means that, while I am perfectly fine to have these images in this blog post, if you were to use it for an ad campaign, you would be violating the copyright of the image.

Yikes! Does that mean you could get a bill or a lawyer letter? YOU BET IT DOES.

Hang on… there’s more…

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. We need an image quickly, to put the finishing touch on a blog post or an email or (gulp) a website page. We go do an image search using Google (or one of the other search engines). We find an image that would be perfect, right click, save-picture-as, and insert the picture right into our blog post. Need an image for an email, or that new landing page on the website? Go grab an image from the web.

NOT SO QUICK. Please. It’s tempting, and oh, so easy, and oh, so wrong – and you could get oh, so sued.

Just because an image is accessible through a web image search, that doesn’t mean you can legally use it. You would not believe the number of times I have seen comments that disagree with that but trust me. Unless you see permission given explicitly about that image that says you CAN use it, assume that you cannot.

Too many people have found this to be true – the wrong way.

Here’s the thing: Getty (and other image providers) has a reputation for finding their owned images – anywhere on the web – that are not properly licensed, and sending lawyer letters to those whom they feel are in violation of their licensing agreement. Here’s a good article about that topic. My takeaway? Even if you don’t end up in court, you could end up paying a hefty sum to Getty – or to some other image owner – or to an attorney.

Take the safe route, not the easy route. You’re going to have to either create your own images or buy some images from a reputable provider.

Now perhaps you are thinking, “What about Flickr?” It’s true that Flickr has some images that are licensed under Creative Commons. Here’s the thing, though – if an image on Flickr isn’t licensed through Creative Commons, you can’t legally use it, for anything. Plus, if you choose to use Flickr, most images that you can legally use will require attribution (artist credit) along with the image (and an attribution looks terrible on a website, and only slightly less terrible on a blog post). Plus, you may not be able to legally edit the image in any way. In other words, read the rules of use for any images on Flickr that tempt you.

So, back to creating your own – which is a good idea if you have graphic design or professional photographic skills in your back pocket, or the budget to hire those skills – or buying the images you need. You can get really decent images for as little as a buck, and great images can range up into the hundreds of dollars. The downside of the inexpensive images is that they’re going to be more frequently used by more people, while the most expensive images will be less replicated around the web.

No matter which route you choose – creating or buying, it’s far less risky than just grabbing a random image from an image search result – and NO LAWYER LETTERS will come your way!

Oh, here’s a stock photo of James Franco for you to enjoy.

All rosy now!

If you want the Vince, James, and company pics yourself, you can’t get them anymore – sorry. If you could, I’d remind you: editorial use only.  (To see the exact language from Getty/iStock as to what that means, go here.)

Play it safe. Get an account with an inexpensive paid image service (DepositPhotos or Shutterstock are examples) or get a line on a royalty-free image service (like Don’t get images from the Google. It’s a bad idea that could land you in some hot water.




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