Sprucing Up Your Website: Images from Google vs. Images from Stocks

As a newsmaker, blogger, website owner, or marketer, you should know that high-quality, relevant, eye-catching, and for sure original images are the most effective way to give your text content a boost.

Especially if it falls into the category of sports, politics, business, or news.

Indeed, we are living in the age of visual culture when:

  • blog posts and articles with relevant images get by two times more views;
  • two of three customers are more likely to interact with the product if they can find its images in the local search;
  • visual content generates more engagement than text.

Sprucing Up Your Website

Images have become incredibly valuable over the last years – in fact, more valuable than descriptions & specific information about the product, and even reviews, ratings & feedback from customers. Let alone social engagement boost – people are willing to share beautiful, witty, funny, cute, and just lovely pictures they like.

There are gazillions of visual items on the web: users upload at least a few trillion pictures per year, and it might seem like you can search and grab any. But that’s not entirely true, and not only for ethical reasons. It’s just not possible to go and take a focused collection of photos you adore since they are copyrighted and hence using them without permission is a serious crime.

Sprucing Up Your Website

To deal with the problem, many use images from Google labeled ‘for reuse with modification,’ but, alas, Google does not liberate you from penalties if it happens that the image labeled ‘free’ was in fact copyrighted. That said, there’s an algorithm to pick free photos from Google while staying on the legal side of the fence. But before we proceed to it, let’s shed light on two cases when you do not need any copyright confirmation.

Fair Use and Public Domain

You do not need to check for copyright if the image falls under the category of Fair Use or Public Domain.

  • Fair Use. Copyright law was adopted not only to protect rights of content owners but also ‘promote the progress of science and useful arts,’ which is why ‘the Fair Use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.’
  • Public Domain. Images with no exclusive intellectual property rights, or if the rights have expired, been forfeited/waived, or may be inapplicable, are free to use. These images are marked with the Public Domain Mark 1.0 or the CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication Mark. Public domain image resources include Flickr Commons, Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons, and other websites (link to the list of public domain image websites gathered by Wikipedia).

But what if the picture falls into neither of these categories? Well, in that case, you have no other choice but to reach the owner and get permission to use it. Otherwise, you might be caught red-handed and pay dearly.

How Not to Lay an Egg When Using Google Image Search

No matter how tempted you are to copy the desired image, you should consider whether the picture is protected by copyright law. To complete this little investigation, first of all, apply one of the advanced Google search filters to sieve out the type of images you are searching for:

  • Labeled for reuse with modification.
  • Labeled for reuse.
  • Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification.
  • Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

Sprucing Up Your Website

However, Google is not a certified collection of photos and therefore bears no responsibility even for ‘labeled for reuse with modification’ images, which means there’s still a possibility that someone has edited and re-uploaded the copyrighted photo. In fact, the ‘free’ label attached to the image does not really mean it when it comes to Google search and therefore you still can violate copyright law even when using ‘labeled for reuse’ images unless you do further research.

The best way to go is to assume that all images from Google are protected by copyright and start searching for the owner once you stumble upon a suitable picture. But it’s not always that easy to get a due response. Depending on luck, you might get the permission almost immediately or don’t get it at all. In this regard, it may be reasonable to estimate whether the Google search game is worth the candle since there’s always an alternative way to solve the problem: photo stocks.

Royalty-Free Images on Photo Stocks: Much Quicker and Usually Cheap

While copyright penalties can suck the life out of you, photo stocks abundant with exquisite high-quality royalty-free images can save loads of time & effort. Just go with an on-demand package or subscription plan to grab as many photos as you need.

Sprucing Up Your Website

There are dozens of free and paid worthy stocks – Getty Images, Pixabay, Depositphotos, Fotosearch, 123RF, Shutterstock, iStock, BigStock, VectorStock, etc. – so it’s all about picking a reasonably priced photo that would work for you best. Whether you are willing to pay a few cents or a few hundred dollars per image, you’ll find that option. And what is really alleviating is that most photo stocks attach no strings, giving you all the freedom to reuse, modify, and do whatever you want with what you’ve bought! Nevertheless, make sure to peruse the license agreement as sometimes it implies certain limitations.


Both images from Google and images from stocks might work for you under certain circumstances. The main factors are time and budget. If they are in short supply, it would probably be wiser to appeal to free or cheap photo stocks; and if you have all the time in the world, reach the image owner by all means and seal the deal with him.

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