Communicate With Photos - Legally - Word&Way

Communicate With Photos – Legally

Ken Satterfield

Ken Satterfield

Church business administrator Ed Marino recently shared on the Church Law & Tax website that his church received word it owed several hundred dollars to a stock photo company because a stock photograph had been posted unintentionally on the church website without proper licensing.

While investigating the accusation, Marino learned three things:

• Stock image companies are cracking down on violations. (They use tools such as to find unauthorized image use.)

• Search engines such as Google have a disclaimer that they are not required to include license information.

• If an image is repackaged and posted without including licensing information and you use it, you are still liable.

In a classic routine, comedian Steve Martin shares the key to being a millionaire and never paying taxes is to use two simple words when confronted by the tax man: “I forgot.” For stock footage companies, innocent mistakes or “we’re a small church” won’t work either!

That’s fair. Professional photographers go through a time-consuming process to get that “just-right” photo. They deserve compensation.

Here are some steps to finding legal images to use online:

• Google and Bing offer image search. Yvon Prehn’s Effective Church Communications site includes a video describing how to legally download images from search results on Google (Images > Search Tools > Image Rights) or Bing (Images > License) and choosing an option that allows you to use, modify and share (

• Researching images is a smart extra step. allows reverse image search using an uploaded image or URL, helping you to find a source and different sizes and resolution. Google Image Search allows you to find sources and possible costs. Plagiarism Today provides a step-by-step procedure ( license-photographs). offers Fast Image Research. The add-on for Firefox and Chrome browsers allows you to right-click an image, choose Research Image and both Google and TinEye are searched.

• Creative Commons licensing ( allows the creator of an image, music or academic material to designate how others can use it. Is credit required? Can it be used in a commercial project? Can it be redistributed? Their search page helps you look for images and video on a variety of sites (

• Many, many sites, such as, allow searching for public domain images. These sites may require credits or free registration, or use a specific distribution method. Some suggest stock images for purchase. You can find lists of free stock photo sources, including restrictions, such as this list of 80 services at And keep looking — I occasionally am made aware of a site that didn’t show up in one of these lists, most recently

The Harvard Law School library ( provides a resource with annotated links to search for images, audio or video content.

• When in doubt, consider taking pictures or working with volunteer photographers. While they may not be studio quality, they may meet a temporary need. A discussion on the Church Administrative Professionals site ( considers age, privacy and submissions.

Most anything posted on the Internet never truly disappears. Marino’s experience ( sites-learning-from-our-costly-mistake.html) also taught him that deleted online images can still be found through Internet archival services. Two examples are the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine ( and the Library of Congress’ announced plans to archive Twitter feeds.

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. But consider ownership and privacy before posting so one of those words doesn’t turn out to be “oops.”

Ken Satterfield is marketing coordinator for Word & Way.