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How To Track Down The Owner Or Source Of An Image To Get Permission To Use It On Your Own Website

By April 22, 2014 2 Comments

"Lizzie Loves Troy." Watercolor, Ink by Lahle WolfeIf you use the Internet you may be confused about when it is okay to use an image on your website or blog.

For example, why is it okay to share images you see on Facebook with other people (actually, it isn’t always okay) but not put Facebook images on your website?

Why Google can show thumbnails of your images without your permission (it’s in their terms of use if you allow their search engine access to your website for inclusion), and what about all those creative commons licenses?

Confused about what images you may and may not use?

The bottom line is very simple:  If you are going to use an image you do not own (especially for any commercial purpose) be sure to get permission from the image’s owner first, purchase a license to use it, or give proper attribution when a copyright owners says anyone can use it for free with attribution.  If you cannot do any of those things don’t use it.

Using images without permission or rights is against copyright laws and doing so could result in being blacklisted from search engines or even being sued.  And, what you may not know is that if the image you are using without permission is from a major stock company, it is tagged in such a way that the company can easily find it, track you down, and send you a cease and desist letter (or you are lucky) or a nasty settlement demand letter.

Some Stock Image Companies Will Come After You

My expose series on About.com about Getty Image’s aggressive tactics involving “Settlement Demand Letters” to force website owners into paying ridiculous sums of money for alleged, unproven, copyright infringements remains a popular comment watering hole. Comment after comment left by my readers is filled with concern and outrage over having been threatened by Getty and often being forced into paying $700 to thousands of dollars for photos Getty may not even hold copyrights too.

I was very pleased to see that Getty got a taste of its own medicine. For quiet sometime, Internet forums and blogs have been filled with comments by website owners stating images they used were purchased from other sources. Many have suspected Getty was asserting rights to images that they did not have.

Now, at least one photographer has now won in court.  Getty Images took, used, and collected money for photographs of the Haitian earthquake taken by photographer Daniel Morel without his permissions.  Getty claimed they had the rights to use the images for commercial purposes because Morel had posted them on Twitter.  A court disagreed and now Getty could be on the hook for millions in damages.

“To say that photo warehouse giant Getty Images just got a taste of its own medicine would be an understatement. In a 58-page decision issued on Jan. 14, Southern District on New York Judge Alison Nathan ruled that Getty, Agence France Presse (AFP), and The Washington Post infringed Morel’s copyrights by disseminating photos he took of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake without his permission.” Source:  Getty Images Loses Major Case Brought By Photographer Daniel Morel

So how do you find the owner of an image to ask permission, or, find a source where rights are offered for sale so you can legally use the image on your blog or website?

Perhaps you have seen an image on Pinterest, a website, or Facebook and wondered where you can buy it, who the owner is, or where it first came from?  If the image has a watermark that is a good place to start.  If not, try hovering over the image to see if credit for the image pops up.  You can also look at the source code to see if the image has an “alt” tag for search engines that site visitors do not see.

You can also trying down loading the image to see if it has a description attached to it identifying the owner (as long as you do not use the image it is fine to download it.)

As an example, I have included an image of a painting of a young girl and her horse.  If you hover over the image you should see more information about the image including the credit.  If you download it, you will see it has been tagged with my name as well.  If you searched for the image on Google images (see below) you will find other sites that show this image, including my personal website where all my artwork is shown.  You could also try entering my name into Google’s search engine and you’d find my website and more information about the image.

Using Google To Find An Image Owner

www.images.google.com is Google’s search engine for images.  You can enter a URL of an image online or upload an image and Google will deliver search engines results showing you where the image can be found online.

Google uses image recognition tools to match your photo with others like it.  You will have to sort through instances where others have used the image but you may also see it being advertised on a stock image company in the results.  Also, you can contact some of the other folks using the image and ask where you can purchase rights.

Other reasons to try Google image recognition:

  • Stalk your ex (kidding – leave your ex in the past), but you can check to see if your own picture (or pictures of your kids) are posted in public places;
  • Find copyright infringers (this is one way Getty Images tracks down their images);
  • Check your brand presence (search for your logo);
  • Check to see where images of your products appear (such as on social networks);
  • Find similar images which may be more interested, free, or cheaper to use.

Many websites block search engines from indexing content and images, for example, you won’t see images from Facebook that are private appearing in Google Image search results, but Google’s image search engine is where I start if the image I want to use does not have any credits associated with it.

Remember, however, if you cannot find a place to purchase rights or get the owner’s permission — don’t use it.

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  • Benjamin

    Thanks for the article, good read 🙂
    By the way when I hover over the image used it reads “Watecolor”, assuming it’s a typo.

    • Lahle Wolfe

      What a great eye! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about the typo (it’s corrected now.) Have a fantastic day…. Lahle