The power of Google’s search engine is impressive, and even more impressive when you look at the results from its image search feature. Millions of images from across the web are available for any user to see at the click of a button. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right to use these images just because they turned up on a Google search.  Google is NOT a collection of public domain or copyright free images (or anything else, for that matter). Here’s what to consider before you start using images that you find on Google.

Copyright Laws can be complex to understand (as can most other laws set up by the federal government) but it’s important to remember that they only apply to the commercialization of intellectual property. What that means is you can’t use other people’s images to make a profit or for business related uses. If you just want to change your desktop background with an image you found using Google, you are more than welcome to. If you are a student who needs to use a specific image for a school presentation you are more than welcome to. What you cannot do is use that image for your business website, regardless of the type of business (profit, non-profit, church, whatever). Copyright Laws are designed to prevent users from using an image to advertise or sell a product without the original producer of the image giving permission.

The Internet can make existing Copyright Laws a bit trickier than they used to be. With so many uploads and downloads occurring across the web, it can be difficult to monitor who is using specific images that may be copyrighted. Google has an algorithm that they won’t share the details of, but it usually does a pretty good job of removing images or even videos that may have copyright claims against them. If you continue to use images that have been copyrighted, Google may even suspend your Google+ or YouTube accounts. It’s a tough enforcement, but there are too many people that blindly use images from a Google search and think they can use it for whatever purpose they so desire.

Google Images is one of the most frequented sites on the web, and there should be no surprise in that statement. With that power and flexibility comes the reality that many users are going to essentially steal images unknowingly. While most of the time these issues are resolved between the original creator of the image and the user, they can escalate into suspensions of Google accounts or even lawsuits. If you plan on using an image found on Google for commercial purposes, make sure you are following all existing Copyright Laws beforehand. Otherwise that image might be a whole lot more trouble (and money) than it’s worth.

(And check out our blog post on stock photos!)

Do you have any thoughts on Copyright Laws and Google? Leave them in the comments down below!