Are Google Images Copyrighted?

google-imagesWe’ve all been there, looking for an image or two to add some panache to our websites. Google images is naturally the first place you go to find something suitable, and you can get some great ideas there. What you CAN’T do, is download those images and stick them up on your site.

Are Google Images Copyrighted? Well..Yes And No

Google doesn’t copyright them, the publishers or owners of the images do. Google images is just an index or search engine of images.

While there will probably be some people who just upload their selfies or amateur photographs without acquiring copyright, there will also be huge companies that will sue you for using their images (they had to pay the photographer after all). How do you know which is which?

Even if you assume you are taking an image from somebody who isn’t going to sue you, how do you know it’s their image in the first place? I wouldn’t take the risk.

Not unless you want to risk getting a bill in your inbox from Getty or another big image company. They don’t just ask you to take it down either, they’ll ask for a few thousand dollars. Still thinking about stealing those images?

I’ve heard all sorts of questions or excuses about this in the past, and I’m going to address them in an FAQ style for the rest of this post.

“What if I edit the image slightly?”

Define “slightly”. If you edit it so that it is unrecognizable from the original, such as using a small segment and putting it into a new image or manipulate it heavily, then this is passable. Just changing color, removing a small part, of changing the size/shape doesn’t get you away with things, and you’ll still be breaking the law.

“What if I give them a credit and link back to their site?”

This is fine as long as you’ve got permission to do it. Don’t just assume it’s cool. If you really love the image or need that one and that one alone, it’s always worth contacting the website owner and inquiring about it.

Places like Flickr do have a “common license” section which lets you use images in exchange for giving an image credit and a link back to the original photo.

The problem with this is, sometimes people give out a common license for an image they upload, and it’s not even theirs to give out. I’ve known people get bitten this way and wind up on the wrong side of Getty.

“What if there are like five other websites using the same image?”

Just because others have stolen an image and got away with it, doesn’t mean you will too. Equally, why would you want to use an image that countless others are using?

“What if I just take a screenshot of the image instead of downloading it?”

Uhm..I don’t know where to start with this one (and I’ve seen it a few times). It’s the contents of the image that you’ll get in trouble for copying, not the physical image file itself.

Basically, could probably get away with it if you are very careful and steal the “right” images, but that’s like saying you could get away with stealing someone’s handbag if you do it right. It’s still wrong and illegal.

There are some places you can go for free images, such as Flickr (bear in mind what I said earlier), or you can check this link for a list of free “stock photos that don’t suck”.

Equally, consider checking out some premium options like the Fotolia image library. Images don’t cost as much as you think, and you can get some seriously professional ones to boost the look of your site tenfold.

This is my personal route, and I’ve never looked back in that regard. Stop trying to get around “free” images, and make your site look more professional.


  1. Good post Dom. This subject is really one that has massive misinformation on it. I just prefer to either use screenshots or just buy the photos. It’s really not worth the risk even though the odds you being sued is unlikely.

    • Yeah me too, but you can understand why newcomers on a budget are tempted to get free ones first. The thing is though, the more professional their site, the faster they’ll earn money to put towards a photo budget!

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