It all happens so quickly. You need a photo for your website banner, preferably something adorable and on theme with your latest promotion. You pop onto Google, type in “Dog scratching ear” and bam! Up pops 11 million photos, some of which are perfect for your promotion. You right-click on one, save the image, upload into Canva, and moments later, you are designing the perfect banner for your flea and tick promotion.
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s because it is.
Google can pull up countless images on any topic you can think of. As a result, the temptation to browse through those pictures and just pick the one best suited for your needs can be quite high. But those images aren’t just free for the taking. They belong to someone, and using one without permission could get your practice into a lot of legal trouble.

Why using Google Images could cause serious problems for your practice

The pictures on Google Images may not have a watermark or a price tag, but that doesn’t mean they’re up for grabs. Unless you know for certain otherwise, your safest bet is to assume that all the images you find on Google (or any other search engine) are protected by copyright law. Which means that using them without permission could result in legal action against your practice.
The Internet is replete with stories of blogs and websites who infringed on copyright and found themselves in legal hot water as a result. Usually, the offenders are facing legal action over just a single photo. The number of images you use doesn’t matter. One stolen image is one too many. And the cost of infringement is steep, with bloggers and websites paying well into the thousands for photos that would have only cost them 20-40 dollars if they’d asked for and received permission first. Take a lesson from these cases. The price of infringement is simply not worth it!

When are you liable for photos taken from the Internet?

There are also many myths that abound when it comes to copyright. Popular Internet lore tells bloggers and websites that taking certain actions can relieve them from liability. However, these rumours are almost always false. It’s important to note that doing any of the following things will not relieve your practice from liability:

  • Attributing the photo to the original photographer/illustrator in the caption
  • Linking the photo back to the original source
  • Making changes to the copyrighted image
  • Only using the image on social media
  • Placing a disclaimer on your website stating that you don’t own any of the photos and that all rights belong to the original creator
  • Embedding the photo into your website using the original source URL instead of hosting it on your server
  • Uploading a smaller-version/thumbnail of the image
  • Using an image that doesn’t have a copyright symbol or watermark on it. The lack of copyright notice does not indicate that the image is free to use.
  • Taking the image down immediately following a DMCA notice. Taking the image down is necessary but does not remove your liability.

Even if your web designer was the one who uploaded the image to your website, you are the one responsible for the content on your site.  Ideally, your website provider/designer will understand copyright law and always comply with it (LifeLearn only uses images that we have purchased for our WebDVM websites), but if they use images that violate copyright law, your practice is ultimately liable for those images.
To reiterate, LifeLearn always pays for the images we use. If you have a WebDVM website and you receive a threatening stock photo letter regarding an image that we provided to you, contact our customer support team for help and more information. However, if you provide us with an image or upload one yourself, you are responsible for obtaining the rights to that image.

How does a photographer know if you use their photo?

Some people think that they can get away with using photos without permission because the Internet is such an expansive place and the photographer will never know. And to some extent, those people are right. If you use the photo of a hobby photographer on your small local website, they might never find out. But there is also technology out there that helps copyright holders monitor and track the usage of their images. With this technology, stock photo companies can keep an eye out for unlicensed use of their pictures, making taking random photos off the Internet a risky business. Not to mention, just because you can get away with something, doesn’t mean you should, ethically!
The bottom line is unless you have received explicit (and written) permission from the copyright holder, do not use random photos you find on the Internet. It’s a recipe for disaster and not worth the hassle, time, or cost.

What should you do next?

If you haven’t already, consider going through all the images on your website, especially if you have a lot of them. If those images haven’t been uploaded by your WebDVM4 web designer, and if you’re not sure where you or your staff got them from, consider replacing them with images you know aren’t infringing on copyright. And speaking of violating copyright, how do you find images that you can use legally?

How to find free images to use legally

Fear not! Not all images are off limits. There are ways you can get the perfect image for your marketing.

  • Take your own
    This is our favourite solution. You have tons of adorable material available to you right in your own practice. Use that to your full advantage and fill your marketing with real images of your patients. If you take the photo, your practice owns the copyright. And taking your own in-house photos is really easy! You’ll only need a couple of things: a photo consent form and a suitable camera (a practice iPad might be a worthwhile investment).
  • Use CC0 licensed images
    Creative Commons licensed images are in the public domai, and can be copied, modified, and distributed, even for commercial purposes, without requesting permission. This means the artist has given their consent to allow their pictures to be used by anyone for any purpose.

With other affordable and legally sound options available to you, stealing an image from the Internet should be the last thing you consider doing next time you need a photo for your marketing, website, or Facebook Page. Avoid steep fines and respect copyright. Photographers and your wallet will thank you for it!

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