Google Images: It is Mine, NOT Yours!
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
There have been a lot of issues recently with me trying to explain to clients and employers what intellectual property law is. I am sure I do not know everything there is to know, but I do know this:
Property Belongs to the Owner
If you have a store and you sell merchandise, it is not OK for someone to come in and take your merchandise. What if I came in to your supermarket and opened up a box of cereal and took a carton of milk and poured myself a nice snack? You would call the police on me, right? This is stealing. I did not pay for the items. They are your property.
Now that we established what everyone knows, why is it so difficult some business owners to understand that the web is full of other people's property. They may or may not be selling it. The property is photos. The property is art. The property is graphics. Yes. This is property. And, No. It does not belong to you...even if you can Google it and an image you like shows up.
How Google Works
OK, so as a graphic designer, I work a really long time creating my graphics. My husband is a photographer. This is how we make our living. It pays the bills. We both have websites. On the websites we post our work in our portfolios, in hope to get people's attention, who will hire us for more work. This is the basis for any business site. They put information and images on a website as part of their marketing.
When we put an image on our site, we name it. We also give it something called an ALT tag. An ALT tag is an invisible name, however it is searchable. If I named a design with an ALT tag of Pumpkin, if you come a long and Google the word Pumpkin, it is pretty likely my design will show up. To put it as a different concept- it is like a creator's hashtag. It just makes our work capable of being found.
But, You Need An Image
Now, a person comes along. They are looking for an image of a Pumpkin to put on their website or a poster, or a piece of art, or what ever. They go to a stock photography website and realize photos cost money for a license that allows them to use them. They then go to Google when they don't want to pay money for stock photography. They Google "Pumpkin" and see my sweet graphic I worked so hard on. They right click and save it on their desk top. They open up whatever it is they are working on, and BAMM!!!, they have a neat little poster, or webpage, with graphics. All done!
But Wait!!!! The image still belongs to me! I did not give it away. If no one used ALT tags for images, no images for a Pumpkin would have shown up at all in Google. But, the graphic still belongs to me. I never gave you a license to use it. You are coming into my supermarket and pouring yourself a bowl of cereal.
What Do I do?
Well, if I can establish that the image belongs to me, I can hire an attorney and send you a cease and desist order. I can sue you, and have the image taken down. The best way of establishing ownership is by getting copyright on images with the US Copyright Office. This costs money.
This can get rather expensive. It would be so much better if people would just respected that creators are owners of their work, just like the person owns their own property, and that things are just not out there for the taking. Why do people think they will never be caught and that it is completely OK to do? I think it is because they believe the risk of any penalty is very slim. So, they steal. Yes, STEAL. This is what they are doing. All the effort for me to make a graphic was not for someone to steal it. But, that is exactly what happens when someone takes an image off of Google.
To Learn More...
If you want to learn the laws, or need anything clarified about this, the World Intellectual Property Organization goes into a much deeper understanding of what I have tried to explain here. The bottom line is, you most likely would not steal a tangible item. Why would you steal someone's work on the web?
As mentioned, my husband both are creators. We own a letterpress printing shop in Upstate NY, but both do our own thing, too. If you want to follow us, we are at Raver Press on Facebook. Hope to see you there. Just remember... the images are ours. Thanks.