Most entrepreneurs don’t even consider the potential consequences of using images from the internet in their advertising or websites. It is best to educate yourself on the laws of copyright to protect yourself and your business from lawsuits and fines.
Google itself does not copyright any of the searchable images that you find in the images tab. They are all either individually copyrighted by different owners, or not copyrighted at all. Google includes on their help site, “we can’t grant you the right to use them for any purpose other than viewing them on the web. If you’d like to use images from our image search, we suggest contacting the site’s webmaster to obtain permission.”
If you wish to use an image that has an existing copyright, it is recommended that you figure out who the copyright owner is and contact them directly to ask for permission or offer to pay them a fee. If you can’t figure out who the copyright owner is, there are records and files of every copyright in the Government’s Copyright Office.
The answer to whether or not you can be sued for using an image with a copyright is yes. There is the possibility of getting sued for violating copyright laws. If you use images without permission, you are running the risk of getting caught and the copyright owner bringing a lawsuit against you or your business. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney General may even initiate a criminal investigation against you.
There is the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute that states that it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting and scholarly reports without the permission of the copyright owner. But this doctrine shouldn’t be relied on because it isn’t specifically spelled out enough to build a good defense.
If you have copyright questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.