Many people wrongly assume that because it’s so easy to browse and find a huge array of images on the internet, those images are free to use. In a few cases that may be true, but most require a license fee, and are often licensed only for a specific use. That means most aren’t free, many aren’t even royalty-free, and most have specific guidelines around how and where they can be used, with rules about how many times or how long it can be used.
When inexperienced marketers need imagery, they either browse for the free images, or for “old stuff” they think still holds up for whatever they need. Both approaches present big risks and potential pitfalls.
Knowing the details about an image is extremely important for anything public-facing. Before you copy and paste that old image, or grab the first mediocre free image you find, make sure your team, and especially anyone outside your team, think about the following:
Is the image on-brand and communicating the entire message you want it to? If not, this could irreversibly damage how your brand is perceived.
Are there usage rights associated with that image? Does someone else control how that image can be used? Do they limit where can it be used, or how many times? Or for how long? If you answered, “Yes”, or “I don’t know” for any of these, then don’t use the image. The implications of misused images, particularly for brands and companies in visible media and industries, could result in fines upwards of $150,000.
Another thing to consider is how many other people or companies had the same great idea to grab free imagery for their campaigns, and they grabbed the same photo? A single image that is a few years old, or easily found on a search, could be used thousands of times. Do you really want your company, product, brand being associated with hundreds of others? Or not remembered at all because they’ve seen it so many times.
Keep a close eye on the imagery being used outside of the marketing department. Your biggest challenges may be from people in departments who don’t know the risks, and think they’re doing the right thing. Help them understand what goes behind the use of imagery so they do the right thing.