The quick answer to this question is, almost never. Seriously, honestly, well and truly, don't use Google Image Search when you're looking for the next perfect image for your personal or business project, be it a blog post, a logo, a website header, or what have you. No matter how perfect that image you're looking at is, it's not yours to use. At all. Not even half of it. There are hundreds of both free and fairly affordable subscription service sites that will give you access to millions of just-as-beautiful images available for your use, however you please (as long as it abides by the photo owner's term and conditions of course.) Google Image Search is not your friend on your quest for the best. It can very well be your worst nightmare, and should be left to it's original intent of ogling at Bey's latest celebrity photos.
Why the Warning to Not Use Google Image Search?
I have this constant battle online with one of my favourite bits of artwork that I made years ago, one that has evidently become a fan favourite for my fellow Torontonians. So much so, that I'm more thoroughly familiar with the DMCA filing process then I ever wanted to be.
Wait, What Does DMCA Mean?
DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and one of its many purposes is to uphold a copyright safety-net for artists that want to showcase their work online. Whether the written word, photographs and illustrations, music, etc, if there is proof that Mr. and/or Mrs. BS is using someone else's work online for any means at all, the website hosts managing the copied content can remove the offense from their harddrives. It may be an American law, but most offenders tend to use hosting companies that are on American soil anyway.
If DMCA didn't exist? My images would look like this.
Fugly, right? My utopia is a world where we can share our works freely without someone trying to use it for their own personal gain.
And I get this is a moment of do as I say, and not as I do, because I did once write an article on how to watermark your photos easily, and why you should.
Back To My Warning For You
When I had created that Toronto Skyline piece, I did not imagine real estate agents, local rappers, and web/branding designers, among other professions, wanting to use my artwork to showcase their love of our city, or simply neon-sign the fact that they work in the area.
Honestly, I do understand the draw to Google Image Search. Especially when the culprit is an invincible teen, who doesn't truly get the idea that not everything on the web is theirs for the taking. I get that the internet is a particularly huge place to be in, so what's the harm right? It's just a picture. No one will see.
Except that I do, and there is harm. I've sat at my desk countless times throughout the past year or so, telling people to lay off my work. Its something that took a lot of time and love to create when inspiration struck, and to see it being bastardized, particularly as a pixelated selling point for someone else's business, it hurts.
The dumbest thing you can do though, is think that you really are invincible when doing this. Especially if I'm involved, because between you and I? I excel at online sleuthing. If there is a way to find needed info online, I will find it.
I've stopped contacting these people directly IF the culprit isn't outright making money by using my image. If I know the website hosting company is quick to fix the issue, I'll contact them directly through their DMCA department first and have the offender get a surprise email that my content has been removed from their site. I've stopped quite a few local bloggers from using this image for their site design by filing a DMCA, and hope their site is still active despite the file. Bloggers come and go unfortunately, and its easier for me to file a DMCA instead of wait and hope a blogger will see my request for a website that they might no longer use.
Alternatively, if the offender is a company, using my image on their sales site, they'll be the happy recipient of an invoice by me for a 1 year licensing agreement, with room to discuss future licensing needs if necessary.
Contacting these people has certainly been a fun ride though. I've had one notable person threaten to sue me for my request to pay a licensing fee for continued use of my image as their logo. Citing my request as nothing more than a money-making scam. Good times those days were. I didn't back down despite the threats, and I'm almost but not really curious to know what they use for their logo now. I just hope they learned their lesson.
Let's put it in this extreme way... my Toronto Skyline art might not be art gallery quality, but its worth more to me than the Mona Lisa, because its mine. And apparently I don't like other people playing with my toys, unless I state otherwise (like when I offer free adult colouring pages for anyone to print and enjoy.) That might be my downfall, but I'll own it. It's my choice, and no, I won't be swayed.
I'm Relatively Nice About It Though, Others Not So Much
You can get hit hard if you're caught using someone else's work on your website. Some photostock companies have a dedicated team to search out those using their images found from Google Image Search, among other places, and smack these offenders with fines worth thousands of dollars from their well-paid lawyers.
Free & Cheap Sites For Beautiful, High-Quality Stock Photos
If this isn't your first time here, then you know I'm not going to leave you with this warning and not share alternatives with you. Use this list of sites, showcasing all the high-quality photos you could possibly need as your start your journey of using images in a safe, sane, and consensual environment.
- Fotolia - recently snatched up by Adobe, this has been my favourite place to grab images for my site, when I don't have something in my own library for use. The pictures are relatively inexpensive, and fab quality. (affiliate)
- PicMonkey - my fave place to create images when I'm too lazy to launch photoshop. The first image for this post? Entirely made with PicMonkey. They're awesome for editing a photo you already have, or creating from scratch with all their filters and stock images and stamps. (affiliate)
- Pixabay - you can use these gorgeous photos for virtually anything you want, even commercially.
- StockSnap.io - high quality stock photos that you probably won't find being used elsewhere.
- Pexels - boasts adding 20 new quality stock photos available for your use freely.
Now honestly, after checking out these amazing sites that provide free or cheap images, WHY would you use Google Image Search in the first place? You can get much better quality photos in that list above easily.
There are even free images of green peppers.