Jeff Rotman / Alamy

Is it safe to use Google Images?

Is it safe to take images straight from Google and use them to promote my business or on my blog? The short answer is it can be, but there are some things you need to consider…

1. How do I find an image?
2. How do I know if an image I find is safe to use?
3. What are the alternatives?

This can get a bit complicated because even if you use an image for free you still need to make sure you have all the right permissions. Legally you can’t use an image without the right license, so you need to be sure you have checked it out, or you could get stung with a hefty bill further down the line.

1. How do I find an image I can use for my project on Google?

This might sound a bit obvious, but to search Google for just images you need to make sure you’ve selected the ‘Images’ tab at the top of your search results.

As with most image sites there are a variety of search tools on Google Images and some of them are really helpful to narrow down your search. If you’re looking for an image to use creatively or on your website or blog, you need to understand how to use the ‘usage rights’ filter. Google have created the ‘usage rights’ filter to give you safer search results if you’re looking for images to use commercially. So what do the options actually mean?

Labelled for reuse with modification – this means you can use the image as long as you modify it in some way, for example merging two images. Each license will specify how an image can be used so make sure you read it.

Labelled for non-commercial reuse with modification – this is the same as above, but after modification the image can only be used for non-commercial use, for example on your blog but not in advertising. This can be a bit of a grey area so do your research before you use the image.

Labelled for reuse – this means you can reuse the image without modifying it, but as mentioned above make sure you check the full terms of the license.

Labelled for non-commercial reuse – you can use these images without modification but only for non-commercial use. The license details will give you more info on what this means for each specific image.

2. How do I know if an image is safe to use?

Once you’ve set your usage rights preference it’ll be easy to find an image that’s safe to use, right? Not quite, once you find the image it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re clear about how you can use it.

How do you do that? Click on the image in the Google search results, then selecting ‘visit page’ and the license details should be listed. Sometimes you will find images that are free to reuse under a creative commons licence. But be careful, even Google can’t confirm that all the licenses are annotated correctly. Google place the responsibility of image use firmly with the user so make sure you read their full guidelines before using any image for your project.

You will also see images from a variety of stock libraries in your Google results, these are the best options as you can guarantee they’re safe to use but the downside of these is that you will have to pay!

A quick guide to searching on Google images

1. Once you’re in the Google images view, click on the search tools button, then then usage rights button, you can now choose what usage rights you want to search for.


2. When you have found the image you want to use, click on it and then choose ‘visit page’.


3. Once on the page you should be able to see the license details for the image (this isn’t always the case but we would advice not using any images you don’t have the full details for).


3. What are the alternatives?

Even though there are images available to use for free, it is often better in the long run to spend a little bit of money and get the security of knowing when you can use the image, and what for.  So, although Google are making it even easier to find images that you can use for free, there are clearly some risks involved.

There are some alternatives to using Google as your main source of imagery:

  • Shoot your own images

The upside of shooting your own images for a campaign is that you can get exactly what you want, and you will own the final images. However commissioning photographers and models can get very expensive, very quickly.

  • Buy from a stock library

Stock libraries are the best place to find an image that you know will be safe to use. Not only do they have the permission of the photographer to sell you the images they also have experts on hand to talk through your project and get you the best deal.

With over 55 million images online Alamy.com is a great place to start. We have a huge variety of content and sell both Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF) licenses so our pricing is flexible and can be adjusted to suit your specific needs. Plus there are no subscriptions and you don’t even need to register to buy an image! (sales pitch over!…) Head over to our homepage now to start searching.

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