The Importance of Legally Using Images in Your Content

March 13, 2015


We all use photos and images in our businesses. In the eCommerce world, images are especially important, since folks don’t have the opportunity to feel and touch what we’re selling.

It’s likely that you’ve spent time and money on taking your own or hiring a photographer to take terrific product photos to use on your site, blog, and social media. But there are so many other types of images you need in your business – to announce special sales, celebrate holidays, accompany a blog post, and more.

Don’t Use Google Images

If you’re looking for a specific type of image, such as “green St. Patrick’s Day beer,” to accompany a blog post celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with your customers, your first step might be to search for that term on Google, and then click on the “Images” tab on Google to see what images show up. Many people think it’s okay to save those images to their own computers, and use them. But that’s not true.

“Using an image for any reason, especially for commercial purposes, without getting permission from the owner of that image, likely is copyright infringement,” says Carolyn E. Wright of, a full-time attorney whose practice is aimed squarely at the legal needs of photographers. As an attorney and a photographer, Carolyn leads a busy team of attorneys that handle cases throughout the U.S.

While a minimum photo copyright infringement case may only cost a couple of hundred dollars, many case fines and legal fees run into thousands of dollars. It’s not unheard of to see even million dollar plus verdicts.

“Using images is a time when you want to ask for permission, not forgiveness,” says Wright. In other words: when in doubt, ask for permission to use a photo or buy one.

When You Don’t Need to Ask for Permission

Hyperlinking to an article on social media and then an image shows up as part of it is fine. An example is when you include a hyperlink on a social media outlet, the image automatically populates on the posting. Here is an example from our own Facebook page:


Getting Permission to Use an Existing Image

If you find an image on the internet and you’re interested in using it for your site, blog, or social media, and you can find contact information for the owner of the image, you can ask permission to use it. A quick email using this kind of language will work:

Are you the owner of this image (include description or link)? If so, may I have permission to use it on (my blog, website, social media channel, etc.)?

You may get the following responses:

  1. Yes, without conditions.
  2. Yes, with conditions. (Usually this means attribution: must include name, link to site, etc.)
  3. Yes, but you have to pay a fee. (This may or may not include attribution depending on the photographer.)
  4. No.

Make sure to keep a copy of the response (if you get one), in case the image is questioned at a future date. If a response isn’t given, don’t despair. You can always find free or inexpensive stock photography at a number of different avenues.


We hope these tips will help you better understand how to use images legally in your business. This will not only protect you and your business, but will also help photographers protect their hard work.