Using random images from a Google search can potentially put you at risk. Many stock image companies will not only serve you with a “cease and desist” notice but even if you remove the image immediately they may also insist on claiming punitive damages over and above the original licensing fee. You will have heard the saying that nothing in life is free- the same is true when it comes to the web. Even services that appear to be free come with strings attached.
Unlike traditional copyright where “All Rights Reserved” applies, Creative Commons applies “Some Rights Reserved”. There are 6 types of licences associated with Creative Commons:
As you can see all six Creative Commons require attribution.
This means you must credit the photographer in the manner he/she specifies.
This means you cannot use the image for commercial purposes. So, if your website is a business then you cannot use the image on your site. Even if your site is for a charity or non-profit organisation, if you are using the site to raise money in any way then you will not qualify as “non-commercial”.
This is short for No Derivatives, meaning you cannot alter the image in any way—including cropping.
This means you can make a derivative of the image, so long as you license the new creation under the same Creative Commons license. So if the original image you altered was licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, you’d have to do the same with your version.
Full details of Creative Commons licences can be found here creativecommons.org/licenses
One source of Creative Commons images is Wikimedia.
The biggest drawback of using a Creative Commons licensed image on a business or professional website is the attribution requirement. Using free images on pages intended to sell a product or service sends the wrong message. It gives the impression you were too cheap to purchase stock images or to have professional photos of your products taken.
Another disadvantage to free images is the quality. Professionals rarely offer their images for free so the free images are generally amateur images and may be of a poor quality. Although you may find some good ones you might have to spend a while scrolling through hundreds of bad ones.
Another alternative to creative commons images is to find works that are in the public domain.
The Wiki definition is: When a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law.
Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way. If you do plan to use an image that you believe is in the public domain you should check to make sure that it is definitely free of copyright law in your country as an image that is in the public domain in one jurisdiction may have restrictions elsewhere. One of the ways to check this is by using wiki.creativecommons.org/CC0
To protect yourself against copyright infringement assume everything is copyrighted unless stated otherwise. Always check the origin of the image and look for a licence. To be on the safe side, purchase use royalty free stock photography and make sure you purchase the correct licence for your needs.