Your Images Are Not Free

By Page Wood March 13, 2013

Something that always comes up when I am talking with someone about a new web project is images. I ask the potential client, “So, do you have any images that you would like to use with your website?” The common response is usually something along the lines of, “Whatever we find on Google that looks good. We can use those. They’re on the internet.” Newsflash! Your images are not free.

I’ll be real with you; my worst grade in college was actually in New Media Law. I thought Chem Lab was bad when I was an Environmental Science major, but that didn’t hold a candle to the realm of Copyright law; it can be quite tricky. But really, the topic of images seems like it should be a no-brainer to me. They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? If you are using someone’s image to sell something on your website without explicit permission, it’s as if you are stealing a thousand word speech on why your site or product is awesome. It’s a simple concept when you think of it that way.

The WRONG way to find images

The WRONG way to find images

What happens when you steal images?

A lot of people think oh, what’s the big deal? What’s the worst that could happen? A large bill in the mail, that’s what. I started working on a redesign for a client last fall. His sister had put together his first website using one of the many “site builder” tools out there. When she needed images, she did a quick Google Image search to find what she needed. She thought the images looked great, and had no clue that she was breaking the law. Right before I launched the new site, my client received a certified letter in the mail from a prominent stock image website stating that he owed them $700 dollars for using a copyrighted image without permission. Yep, 700 dollars of hard earned cash. The certified letter included a screenshot of the image in use on his old website.

Luckily, I had already educated my client on why he would need to purchase stock images for his new website so it wasn’t a total shocker when he received the letter. He called me sounding a little distraught, but he was happy that I had guided his new website into the proper direction. I can’t imagine that the inevitable conversation with his sister went so well…

Why are images so expensive?

The average person doesn’t know the first thing about operating a pro-level camera, how to create great composition, or how to go through the editing process. Those skills are natural to some, but most professionals rely on years of experience to capture that perfect moment. Professional photography isn’t just using an expensive tool and pressing a button. But even if it is thought of in that light, someone has to pay for that expensive tool!

Robert Boag, Professional Photographer

My friend Robert Boag, a Professional Photographer who puts an incredible amount of time, and effort into his images

Am I a professional photographer? Not at all. But I have been into photography for a couple of years, and I have friends who are professionals. I know what my friends go through to get that “perfect shot” and how much time they have spent perfecting their craft. To see how hard my photo friends work and to think that so many people see no wrong in stealing their handcrafted images… Not cool.

Where Should I get images for my website?

Back to the website building process; aren’t images supposed to come with websites? It’s a general rule of thumb that websites need something visually appealing. Do I provide my clients with images for free? No. If my clients need images, I direct them to a stock photography website such as iStockPhoto. iStock has an amazing selection of graphics, and some very advanced search functionality.

I always ensure that my clients pay for their images from iStock so that they own their images. If you’re a freelancer, make sure you have in your contract something that covers images. Back in my early days of freelancing I directed a client to a stock photography website to pick out what they wanted. They sent me a great shopping list of images…. And were absolutely amazed that my fee for building a website did not include spending $100 of my own money to purchase images for their website.

There are some free photo options out there… For some of my blogging clients I’ll often use stock.xchng for free photos that I can use as featured images on blog posts. Does this mean I can use the images without any sort of attribution? No. Any blog post that contains an image from stock.xchng has a message from me at the bottom stating, “Creative Commons Image courtesy of stock.xchng” And of course not every “free” image on stock.xchng is created equally. Many of them have special licensing terms, and some explicitly state that the image cannot be use for commercial purposes- Always be thorough. Remember the $700 dollar bill that I mentioned above!

So let this post be something of use to those who are wondering where to get images, or what to tell people who do not understand copyright…. Photos are valuable creations that should not be taken for granted. Respect the artists, and avoid getting slapped with a rather hefty bill.

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