Images, graphics, fonts, copy, and other content commonly found online are not necessarily free to use for however you choose. They are protected by copyright. This means permission or a license is required to be able to use these assets with the stipulations spelled out by the creator.
It’s important to know that these assets do not need to have the copyright symbol (©) displayed in order to be protected; a work is copyrighted as soon as it is created. In other words, any images you find on the internet ARE copyrighted.
For more information about copyrights, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website.
What does this mean?
If you use an image for your business without the proper license or permissions, such as for product labels, on your website, on social media, etc., it’s considered stealing. This can lead to the owner of the image sending you a cease and desist order, requiring you to immediately stop using all of the images (or written text), or worse, require payment for using their assets.
This is not a fun experience; it’s better to make sure you’re properly using assets in the beginning to avoid a major headache later. If you aren’t sure whether an asset is allowed to be used, a good rule of thumb is to assume that it is not.
Know licenses and permissions
There are many reputable websites where you can purchase images, graphics and fonts to avoid copyright issues. We've listed a few of our favorites below. Whenever you find an image, graphic, or font on a reputable website, there will be a license listed for that particular asset. Licenses spell out how exactly it may be used and are very important to read before using that asset.
Licenses are not all worded the same and can sometimes be a bit confusing. Some will be free to use for personal use only, but require purchasing if you want more use rights, like on your business’s website. Others, like an open license, will allow personal or commercial use. As a business owner, it’s important to make sure that the images, graphics, or fonts that you purchase or find as free downloads are licensed for commercial use.
Some commercial licenses have restrictions on how exactly you can use the assets so be sure to read all of the information. If you are not sure that your intended use falls under the license, contact the creator for clarification. If you cannot get clarification, the best option is to find another asset that you are sure is permitted for your intended uses; you don’t want to find yourself in a sticky situation later on.