There is a growing trend on the web these days to spruce up text articles by adding images to the written content. When looking for images for their site, many webmasters look to poach from the visuals in Google Images. The question is whether this will cause legal problems?
Why are people adding pictures to their content? Well, images make the page look a bit more attractive. Studies show sites using pictures and videos throughout the content increase the time visitors spend on the page. Many feel the “time on page” is a crucial factor for search engine optimization purposes.
Google looks at over 200 different ranking factors when figuring out the value of a website. The more value the site has, the higher it will appear in the rankings. One of the factors Google considers is the length of time somebody spends on a site. Given this, webmasters are spending more and more time trying to figure out how to keep visitors on the site as long as possible. Pictures and images are one way to do that.
The rather obvious question is where to go to find images for your website? One of the easiest places is within the Google search results themselves. Google now divides its results into very types of content. You can see a list of these sub-results in the menu at the top of the results for any search. The list includes subjects such as news, maps, videos and, of course, images.
Clicking on the link of the image takes you to the Google image search engine. If you do a search for “beaches in San Diego”, the search engine will return a variety of different pictures of beaches in San Diego. Many webmasters will copy images they find in these searches and republish them on their site. The copying is conducted via the right click and save function. One then just posts the image to their site.
But is this legal?
A copyright is exactly what the name suggests. It is the right of a person to copy and distribute the work at issue. Put into plain English, this simply means it is the right to make copies of the work and sell or license the work to others in exchange for something else [usually money].
Copyright applies to images. The various pictures appearing in the Google images search engine are not copyright-free. Well, there may be a few. The vast majority of them, however, are copyrighted. If you make copies of the photos and use them on your site, you are infringing upon the ownership rights of the copyright owner.
Yes, you could be sued.
I should mention this concept applies to sites other than just Google images. In fact, the person who creates an image or photograph is automatically vested with copyright. As a result, any image you use without a license is almost always going to get you into trouble. In fact, there are now teams of lawyers and search programs hunting the web for people using unauthorized images. If you’re reading this article, you may have already received a letter from one of these lawyers.
Is there a solution to this conundrum? Yes, the solution is to get legal. The way to do this is to visit sites that license images for your use such as Fotolia.com. If you do a search for “license pictures”, you should find plenty of groups providing images under license. The license fee is usually very low, certainly much lower than paying the judgment or settlement on a copyright infringement lawsuit.
If you’re considering adding images to a site or are having a problem with licensing issues, feel free to contact me for a consultation using the contact page listed on the menu at the top the site.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.