Pablo Picasso (arguably) once said: Good artists copy; great artists steal. Historically, borrowing or stealing images from the web for use on your website was not technically legal, but tolerated to a point that the abuse became widespread.
Similar to the legal and digital lockdown on music and movie trading, the unauthorized use of images has become a target for attorneys and the copyright owners who hire them to pursue violators.
Which brings up the question; What are your options for high-quality imagery that won’t put you afoul of the law?
Getty Images – The 800 lbs. gorilla of the stock imagery world, Getty owns iStock, Thinkstock, and Photos.com. Getty is noteworthy because due to rampant copying, they implemented a way to embed their images similar to how YouTube videos work. This allows them to brand the image, and still allow those on a lower budget to use the imagery.
iStock – Now owned by Getty, iStock was and is the current leader of the stock image market. We’ve been a customer of iStock for years, and the prices have slowly crept up over the years, but it remains a major provider and relatively affordable source. They use a credit system, which obscures how much you’re actually paying and encourages you to keep a balance. Our advice is to only purchase the credits you need and don’t keep a larger balance.
ShutterStock, GraphicStock, and The Others – Stock image sites come and go, and there is a constant churn of good general, and niche providers. The key is to find a pricing model that works for you whether that be a subscription or a per image/credit system. We use GraphicStock, but it’s not our only source due to our diverse clientele.
Shoot your own photos. Despite the seemingly daunting task of creating quality photos, shooting your own images can be a great alternative to using low-quality stock images or expensive professional shots.
FreeImages.com – Owned by (you guessed it) Getty images, FreeImages.com offers free images, with plenty of ads and offers to purchase premium images from their owned properties like iStock. Each image/photographer sets their own usage rights (most a very liberal), so make sure to read the fine print before using it.
Hire a professional. If you have the budget, the optimal approach is to hire a local professional to shoot exactly what you need. Photographers typically charge an hourly, or day rate and it can be quite affordable if you plan well and get the shots you need for your marketing vehicles. Review their portfolio of work, and make sure your clear on what you’ll receive in the end.
Do not use Google Image search, or competitors websites to source images for your website, or social media campaigns. Sharing someone’s image with attribution is acceptable and encouraged, but blatant copying is no longer worth the risk.