So you have a new product or service offering and you’re anxious to get marketing materials out to your potential customers. Other businesses across the country might be selling it so there are quite a few photos popping up when you do an internet search. Feeling the temptation to just use one of those? Before you select “save image as”, let’s take a minute to go over some usage basics. Then you can decide what’s best for your situation.

And speaking of basics, please know this is not intended to be legal advice of any kind. Please consult your legal advisor for more information. OK, now that that’s clear….

Always assume everything is copyrighted.

Because, in essence, everything that’s created is protected by copyright laws immediately, whether or not the creator formally files papers. Yes, it helps if they file papers, but they do not need to in order to pursue someone who is using their creation without permission. Wondering how anyone in the entire world wide web could possibly find out you used one tiny little copyrighted photo? Code baby, code. Many photos are tagged with special coding to track usage. Think about it – even the photos we casually take with our smartphones are tagged with GPS coordinates – a basic form of tagging photos with code.

Fair Use

That being said, there are instances in which you may use a created piece without acquiring permission. Those instances are covered by the Fair Use aspect of copyright law and are described in detail here. The safest way to decide if your use falls under Fair Use is to ask if you are using the image for commercial gain. If your use is anywhere close to being considered a business endeavor, get permission from the creator to use that image or just don’t use it.

Seek permission

When in doubt, ALWAYS seek permission to use an image. Sometimes the creator will be flattered you want to use it and may just ask that you list them as the source (make sure to get that in writing). Sometimes they want compensation and sometimes they will just say “no.” So what happens if you can’t get permission or don’t want to pay their fee? Where do you get photos to promote your product or service?

Trusted sources for imagery

These days, stock photos have become very inexpensive. Reputable stock image houses, such as or, have very clear usage policies on their websites so you can feel comfortable using the purchased images for most marketing and advertising applications. Or if what you’re selling is a specific product not usually found on stock photo sites, bite the bullet and hire a professional photographer. Then you’ll be in charge of your own images!

Have specific questions or would like some help with photos and other images? Give us a call at 256-714-6596 or send an email!