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Your 10-step guide for legally using images online

Audiences love visual imagery, so you should incorporate it into your marketing campaigns and online content wherever possible. However, using images without proper authorisation can lead to copyright infringement issues, resulting in legal consequences for you and your business. 


This 10-step guide aims to provide marketers with essential tips on using images legally online and avoiding copyright infringement. Let’s take a look.

  • Understand Copyright Basics

Copyright law protects original works, including photographs, graphics, and illustrations. The creator of an image holds the copyright by default, and you must obtain permission to use it unless it’s explicitly labelled as free to use.

  • Understand Fair Use

Fair use refers to the limited use of copyrighted material without permission, such as quoting a passage from a book to comment on or using information as part of an educational presentation. Fair use may not always apply in the context of marketing materials, so most of the time, you’ll need authorisation to use the image in question. 

  • Use Royalty-Free Images

Royalty-free images are those for which you pay a one-time fee for the right to use them multiple times without additional payment. Websites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Getty Images offer vast collections of royalty-free images for various purposes.

  • Utilise Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons licenses allow creators to grant permission for others to use their work under certain conditions. However, you must adhere to the specific terms of each license.

  • Create Your Own Images

Creating your own images or hiring a photographer or graphic designer sidesteps copyright issues and could help you build a unique brand identity.

  • Verify Usage Rights

Before using an image found online, verify its usage rights by checking the licensing information provided by the creator or website. Be cautious of images labelled ‘for non-commercial use’ or ‘for editorial use only’, as they may not be suitable for marketing purposes such as ads.

  • Attribute Properly

When using images under Creative Commons licenses that require attribution, ensure proper credit is given to the creator. Include the creator’s name, the title of the work, a link to the original source, and the license type.

  • Consider Public Domain Images

Public domain images can be used freely for any purpose, including commercial use. Websites like Pixabay and Unsplash offer high-quality public domain images that can enhance your marketing materials.

  • Keep Records

You should maintain records of the images you use in your marketing campaigns, including their sources, licenses, and any permissions obtained. These records can serve as evidence of your compliance with copyright laws in case of any disputes.

  • Obtain Written Permission

If you intend to use an image in a specific way that isn’t covered by its existing license, consider reaching out to the copyright owner directly to request permission. Obtain written permission detailing the terms of use, including any fees, duration, and restrictions, to ensure clarity and avoid misunderstandings.


By following these guidelines, marketers can navigate the complex landscape of online image usage while staying compliant with copyright laws. Remember, respecting the rights of creators not only avoids legal issues but also fosters a culture of ethical marketing practices.