Small Business Advice

Can you use pictures from the internet without permission?

Before you begin using photos in your marketing campaigns, make sure that you’re familiar with copyright guidelines.

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On average, Tweets with an image attached attract 150% more retweets than Tweets without images. Facebook posts with images see a 230% increase in engagement. If illustrations are included with product instructions, people are 323% likely to follow them correctly. Images are an essential part to digital and product marketing.

If you want to maximize the success of your campaigns with pictures, you should understand the basics of copyright. Whether you’re posting blog posts or Instagram videos, this information on copyright guidelines can improve your digital marketing strategy.

Can You Use Pictures from the Internet without Permission?

When a person creates an image in the United States, that image is automatically granted copyright protection. When an image has copyright protection, no one else can use the image without the owner giving permission. With these rules in place, you need to assume that there is copyright attached to any image you come across. Otherwise, you may face a court order, fines, or escalated legal action. 

DMCA Notice

Copyright owner and authorized agents of the owner can send Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown Notices. If you receive a DMCA notice, it means you are being accused of copyright infringement. These notices require you to remove the reported image. Failure to do so could result in escalated legal issues.

Pictures You Can Use for Small Business Marketing

You already know that you need to incorporate pictures in your marketing plan for your business, but which ones are safe to use and which ones aren’t? You have to assume that all pictures are covered by copyright protection unless otherwise stated, so you can find pictures to use by:

  1. Taking them yourself
  2. Hiring a professional photographer to take them and providing you with the copyright release
  3. Find free images online that are considered public domain. Make sure the images state that they’re free for commercial use. Here is a list of options to start with. 
  4. Purchase a license to a stock photography website to use images from

Types of Images You Need on Your Website

To make an impact with your marketing, you need to choose images that show the nature of what you are selling. Your picture selection has to make sense for the product or service you offer.

Use People in Your Photos

People are a great way to show realistic product usage and emotion in your marketing. It’s even better if you have pictures of your customers using your product or service. Sharing photos from these customer’s social media pages can be a great way to show off your product, increase engagement, and start conversations with their following. However, you should be careful along the way. 

When you’d like to use someone else’s photo, get written permission from them. This could be simple as a direct message on Instagram or Twitter. You should also give credit accordingly. When using the photo, tag the person on social media if you share it and express that you are not the owner of the photo. One easy way to do this is by using the camera emoji, colon, and @username.

If you take photographs of people for your marketing use, make sure you have a disclaimer from them explicitly stating you have the authorization to use them in your images. The same goes for any products that you do not own the rights to and need permission to use in your marketing campaign - or you could be liable for copyright infringement. 

Before You Use Stock Photos

Stock photos can be an easy choice for adding visual aids to your business content. Stock photo websites come in a few different varieties. Some sites will require you to purchase a license or each photograph individually. Other sites offer free stock images that can be used by the general public. 

Tips for Using Stock Photographs

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with using stock photographs. You just have to be smart about it. As a general rule, don’t focus on using the “most popular” pictures when visiting a stock photo site. While stock photos are a great resource, you run the risk of having the same visual content as someone else. Of course, you want to avoid using the same marketing visuals as your competition! This is one reason why we recommend using stock images sparingly in your content, also because they can come off as inauthentic.

Above all, make sure that the stock image you choose properly expresses the message you are trying to convey. It doesn’t do you or your business any good if you waste your money on a stock image that doesn’t accurately reflect your business’s brand, tone, and services.

Don't Let Stock Photos Define Your Brand

Just because stock photos are copyright free, doesn’t mean you should allow them to be what defines your business’s branding. Your business’s brand should be unique to you and your concept, not created from someone else’s image. As you market your business, keep in mind the overall idea of the message you want to create and convey. From there, decide where images are needed and how you want to obtain them.

If you use copyrighted photos, make sure you keep the documentation that shows you can use the image. The documentation will help if you ever get confronted with a DCMA Notice. When you can, always choose unique content.

Try Your Hand at Photography

If you have a smartphone, you already have the capability to capture beautiful images and access to editing apps. You can do your own product photoshoots, saving you some money and saving yourself from copyright problems. Here are some tips for holding your own photoshoots with a smartphone.

Most stock photo sites are made of images that were submitted by people just like you. It’s highly likely that they even used a smartphone to capture it. If you’re going to pay the website to create something you could do yourself, we recommend at least giving your own skills a chance before you purchase from a stock site.

Using User-Generated Content from Social Media
As we mentioned earlier, you can ask permission to share the social media posts your customers may create online. You can also extend that strategy for other photos. If you own a skincare line that’s focused on sustainability, think about what kinds of imagery would resonate with your audience and brand. Sustainably grown food options? Fresh-faced makeup looks? Gorgeous bathroom setups? Once you decide on the images you’re looking for, use hashtags or search functions on social platforms to locate some photos you’d like to share. For each photo, message the user, ask permission to repost, and mention that you will credit them accordingly. 

How to Purchase Legal Images with Nearside Business Checking

If you are a small business owner looking for an easy way to purchase stock images for your content and marketing, Nearside has the solution you need. Nearside offers a cashback debit card with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements, and 2.2% cashback rewards on all debit purchases in 2022!  We make it easy for you to purchase stock pictures or the equipment you need to create your own images. 

Click here to learn more about what Nearside Business Checking can do for your business!
A picture is worth a thousand words. Now with social media marketing, it can also be worth a thousand likes.

Updated: 8/20/2021

Originally Published: 03/24/2021

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