I've just read an article from a meetings-related colleague who is in some hot water over using an improperly-sourced image in a blog post. In short, her business failed to follow its own policy regarding photo/image use and inadvertently posted a blog that featured an image that was downloaded from Google search results. Turns out that image was copyrighted and not available for public use. She has received a cease-and-desist letter and is likely to pay a significant fine even though she removed the image immediately upon receiving notice of the error.

There are monitoring services that help identify photos and other images that are being used without permission in order to recover damages for the copyright owners (usually the artist or photographer who created the original work). As members become more active in social media, and visual content continues to increase in frequency and importance, it is critical that you understand copyright laws surrounding image use. In short, just because you can FIND an image in the "public domain" (a Google search) that does NOT mean that you are free to use the image for any reason without attribution, paying a royalty, or purchasing a license.

There a variety of paid services that sell licenses for visual content. We use Shutterstock as one paid source. Packs of 5 images are available for purchase for around US $50, with images that are suitable for use in blog posts or similar. We also use a variety of free sites that offer images with a Creative Commons license - these images do not require the purchase of an additional license or payment of a royalty. Image credit may still be required, and usage may not be unlimited. A couple of examples are Unsplash, Pixabay,and Pexels. You still need to read and understand the Creative Commons license and any additional terms and conditions. For example, while it may be OK to use an image in a blog post, it may NOT be OK to use that image to create t-shirts and then sell them for your own profit.

Copyright law varies by country. It's in your best interest to understand how you can legally use images on your website, blogs, and other items. A good rule of thumb is that Google image searches are probably NOT a safe bet.