Google Image Search – To Steal or Not to Steal

It’s a graphic designer’s dirty little secret. A plethora of images of anything you can think of, all for free! That’s right, good old Google Image Search. Well, if you’re thinking of pulling an image from some random site via Google images, think again my friend. Though it is a useful resource, just because an image appears in a Google image search does not make it free for the taking.

According to Google:

The images identified by the Google Image Search service may be protected by copyrights. Although you can locate and access the images through our service, we cannot grant you any rights to use them for any purpose other than viewing them on the web. Accordingly, if you would like to use any images you have found through our service, we advise you to contact the site owner to obtain the requisite permissions.

In other words, the original creators of the images own the copyrights. When you click on an image and are redirected to their website, it will hopefully provide more information on the image’s copyright (or the lack thereof). Specifically, look for a copyright statement somewhere (usually on the bottom) or a Terms of Use section.

Images published in the U.S. are automatically copyrighted by their owners, even if they do not explicitly carry a copyright warning. Therefore, you may not reproduce copyright images without their owner’s permission, except in fair use cases, or you could risk running into a lawyer’s warnings, cease-and-desist letters, and copyright suits.

Recently in Germany, Google has learned that there is “kein fairer gebrauch” or “no fair use”. The internet search giant lost two German copyright decisions, as the courts ruled that the thumbnail images that appear in Google Image Search violate German copyright law. The company said in an email that it believes “that services like Google Image Search are entirely legal and provide great value and critical information to Internet users.” “Today’s decision is very bad for Internet users in Germany,” Google added.

What does this mean for U.S. citizens who use Google Images? Nothing different yet, but many sources say this will most likely start a chain reaction and could possibly spread to the U.S.

There are millions of pictures on the internet, and the odds are pretty good that no one will care if you use one for non-commercial purposes (like a personal blog). If someone does end up caring, they will most likely ask you nicely to take it down before taking any kind of legal action… hopefully.

For more information about copyright as it stands in the United States, be sure to check out: Copyright.gov