Not everything you find online can be used on your website. That goes double for a business website.
It’s against the law to copy text and images from the internet and use them on your website. It doesn’t matter where the image is located on the internet.
If you find an image on Facebook that you like, you can’t use it unless you get written permission from the original creator. Not only that but the permission must allow proper use of how you’re going to use it.
Using an image for business purposes is different than for personal and educational purposes.
What You Can’t Use
The list of what you can’t use is much longer than what you can use for your website.
The general rule of thumb is that you can’t use it unless you created it. That goes for everything on the internet unless it has a very specific type of license that says you can use it or if you purchase the proper rights to an item.
You have to look for exceptions to use content rather than assume it’s okay to use something until you’re told you can’t.
In other words: Assume you can’t use content unless you’re told you can. Even then you have to make sure you’re using it in the right way.
There are free stock image sites where you can download images and use them for commercial use. The sites tell you if an image can be used for commercial use. You are still responsible for the proper use of these images, though, because many of the free image repositories allow users to upload images.
What You Can Use
There are a lot more limitations to what you can use. It’s also your responsibility to make sure you’re using content that you’re allowed to use.
Creative Commons is an organization that makes it easy to find content that you can use. They’ve given creators an easy way to tell people exactly how their content can be used.
The license you should be looking for specifically is CC0. That means the creator reserves no rights and gives you the ability to use their work in your content.
There are many websites that provide free high-resolution images to use on your website. There are other websites with audio and others with video content you can use for free with the CC0 license.
What Can Happen
The copyright laws that protect peoples work are laws and there can be repercussions if you don’t follow them.
Most of the time you won’t run into any bad repercussions but that doesn’t mean ignore the law.
It’s not right stealing other people’s work. They worked for what they created. It’s a moral issue rather than a legal issue.
You can be asked to remove work that is copyrighted if you don’t have the proper permission. If you ignore the request then you can get a legal request to take it down. If you ignore the legal request then you are open to lawsuits and legal actions which is never worth it.
It’s always best to avoid using copyrighted materials in the first place. There are many options for acquiring legal content on the internet for little to no cost so there’s no excuse to steal copyrighted content.
When It’s Okay To Use Copyrighted Images
Sometimes it’s okay to use copyrighted images on your website but only under limited circumstances.
The internet is full of linking and referencing other content. That often means you can copy a short amount of text if you put it in quotes and link to the source that you are quoting.
Most websites won’t have a problem with this especially since they get a backlink to their website.
Sometimes an image has some good data on it that you want to use in a blog post or on a page to explain an idea. Most websites won’t have a problem if you put that same image unmodified on your website and link back to the original source.
In these two cases where you’re not stealing it for your design but rather referencing the original work and linking back to it then you should generally be okay. Nobody is going to yell at you and tell you to take down a link to their website.
In fact, many times the whole purpose of creating the data and putting it on the internet in the first place is to get people to link to it.
These examples will help you understand what is okay and what is not for copyrighted material. Sometimes it’s all about using proper judgement but overall it’s easy to know when you’re ok to use content and when you’re not.
Note: None of the information on this page is official legal advice. We are not legal professionals and cannot be held accountable for this advice. We recommend you consult with a lawyer if you have any questions or doubts.