Why Google Images is NOT a free ‘Image Library’

The problem with digital information is that it can so easily be shared. Upload an image and it can instantly be copied across a myriad of different social media platforms and websites, making it difficult to work out who ‘owns’ the image. This leads people to believe that it is all ‘public domain’ and can be freely used by anyone – but as the song goes: “It ain’t necessarily so…!”

What is Google Images?

There are lots of ‘Stock Image Libraries‘ where you can source images for your marketing and although most charge a fee, some are completely free. Google Images is not one of these and so should not be used as one. It’s simply an automated collection of every image in the Google directory, i.e every image from every website from the entirety of the internet is potentially in the Google Images library. This means your photos from your own website will probably be on there as well, and images you’ve shared on social media and uploaded elsewhere. Would you be happy for these to simply be reused by anyone in the world, especially if you had paid for them?

To be fair it is possible to filter the results to only show those that supposedly are licensed for commercial use (i.e for promoting your business), but we’ve found that it is not a particularly reliable system and produces some results that claim to have commercial licences when we suspect they don’t. If you use Google Images in this way we’d advise clicking on the source website for the image and using your common sense to evaluate whether it is likely that the licence claimed by Google is correct: Simply click the ‘Tools’ button above the results and then use the drop down menu of ‘Usage Rights’ to select either ‘Labelled for reuse‘ or ‘Labelled for reuse with modification‘, the images that remain are supposedly ok to use for your marketing.

Although it can be interesting to use Google Images as a search, some of the results that it produces are from proper stock libraries anyway and so you’re probably best looking directly at these sites. We have a regularly updated article which lists a wide range of image libraries that you can use, including premium, budget and even FREE options: Where can I get stock images from?

And if you ever wonder whether one of your images is being used elsewhere, Google Images provides a very easy method to find out: simply click the camera icon in the Google Images search bar and either upload an image or put in the web address for it. Google will search for it, and ones it considers to be similar. Be aware that the big corporations use very similar methods to protect their imagery and find those people who are using it without permission…

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