Please Don’t Use Images Just Because they Came Up in Google

Humans tend to be very visual creatures. In fact, I like pictures very much myself. I use Instagram and Chatbooks like a boss. Probably you do too and everyone else. So it comes as no surprise that many social media posts and platforms heavily rely on the use of images in their updates.

Pictures are Great, But…

Here’s the thing though: you can’t just use any image in your posts. There are a whole lot of photos out there that you don’t own and as a result, cannot use in your posts.

In fact, those images may be copyrighted by someone else and if you use them, you might get sued.

I know I sound a bit alarmist but some of these copyright cases have been for millions of dollars. Every day, we see a few more people using images they found and opening themselves to considerable risk.

Google Images Aren't Good to Use

Here’s how to tell if you should not use a photo: If you found the image by typing something into Google and then saved the first image that came up that you liked, you probably can’t use it.

Professional photographs look fantastic. Which is exactly why they’re protected by copyright law. Instead, you can use pictures you find on sites like pixabay or create your images in canva or picmonkey, or use images that your distributors have provided for commercial use or take your own photos.

There are so many photo alternatives that there’s honestly no reason to risk getting sued.

And getting sued is an honest possibility. Businesses of all sizes have been involved in multi-million dollar lawsuits over image copyright issues. Copyright infringement penalties are scary. Yet a growing number of people are doing it, lulling others into believing that it’s ok.

Not sure if you’re using your images correctly? We’re happy to help. Reach out to talk or get a social media audit to better understand how to protect your business and yourself.

[Edited to add: Google does allow you search Google Images by various filters including “Labeled for reuse”, etc., however when doing so, you’ll see that Google still notes “Images may be subject to copyright”.]


  1. LaNeshe

    You can sort google image results to see only those marked for reuse, which is helpful.

    • The E R Team

      Hi LaNeshe,

      Yes, you can search that way, but if you read Google’s terms, it says that even those marked reuse can’t be guaranteed to be OK for reuse. :-/

  2. Susan

    What a timely post. We had this discussion in work today. I expressed concern over our use of images that we found through Google searches and my coworker stated that she felt anything found on the Internet is fair game.

    • KLZ

      I’m sure this is a debate going on in offices around the country. So many businesses do this that it *seems* like it’s ok. It’s unfortunate that it can be tough to follow the rules since they seem to change so quickly.

    • CB

      perhaps your coworker would change her mind if I walked into your business and took her computer and left with it, “it’s all fair game” – taking something and using it when you’re not the owner is theft!

  3. Shan

    What do you think about photos used on social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest? Can you take a photo from a public account and attribute it with a caption and link back and be *somewhat* safe or is it just a matter of time before you’re in some big trouble? I run a consumer blog and it’s incredibly tempting to take pics of celebs from their social sites and other Pinterest pages bc they make the posts SO much better but I also worry about it. Anyone’s input on this would be really awesome. Thanks!

    • The E R Team

      Hi Shan,

      While attribution and linking is always helpful, that doesn’t mean permission has been granted for reuse of the image. So providing attribution isn’t going to be a guarantee that all is well.

  4. Ryan

    That’s why I like to use a service like Dollar Photo Club. A photo for a buck is cheap insurance for me!

  5. Gina

    Great information!

  6. Tim Mitchell

    You can use sites such as which do allow for use as long as you credit the author.

    I use this type of sites for my clients and it works well.

    • The E R Team

      Sites like that are perfect when you have the option of crediting the author. That becomes very tricky, though, when you need images for social media posts as it’s nearly impossible to correctly link to and credit the source in a social media post.

  7. Julie

    so why do Google publish free images if they are not free and cannot be used even if you reference the owner. it makes no sense

    • The E R Team

      I agree that if you filter Google Images by free use, etc., Google should guarantee that an image it categorizes as a public domain image truly is royalty free and attribution free. I don’t know that Google’s intended use for all its images is to make them “free” to use so much as to serve as an image search tool just like it allows you to search other types of content and media on the internet.


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