Copyright Infringement - What you need to know

Copyright Infringement - What You Need to Know

A significant part of artwork is imagery, such as photos or illustrations. The Internet seems to offer countless ones for free. However, most people don't realize that these images are copyrighted and are prohibited from being used in other artwork. They were photographed or created by an individual, and the ownership rests with them (a concept known as Intellectual Property). For this reason, a common question among both customers and designers is how to acquire usable art without risking infringement and the legal and ethical consequences that come along with it.


Debunking the Myths:

"I can just take something from Google images."

The vast majority of images you find on Google or anywhere on the web fall under this same rule. If you must use Google, use its advanced search settings to narrow the results to ones that are public domain or free for commercial use. You can also do this with Another downside to using images from the web is their small size and low quality, which results in blurry prints.


"This website says the picture is free."

Be cautious with these sites, as each image has its own usage rights. Many times it is "free for personal use," meaning it can only be used in projects that don't involve the exchange of money. Your commercial printing/design firm cannot legally use these images, since you are paying them for their services. Some images are offered under the Creative Commons license, which usually means they are free to use but require attribution (such as putting a readable line of text on top of the photo giving credit to the artist.)


“No one will catch me.”

New technology enables artists to identify unlicensed imagery and act to protect their rights. Images are ‘fingerprinted’ so that they can be tracked and found in use, even if they have been modified, recreated or if only part of the image has been used. The image is then flagged up to the copyright owner so that they can check if the correct license is held.


"If I find something I like, I can have it recreated and then it's mine to use."

Taking an artist's idea and making it your own is another type of infringement. Your design can be inspired by another artists' work, but it cannot be a direct or close replication.


So what's left? How do I get imagery to put in my artwork?

You have a few options.

If your budget allows...

1.         Use websites such as to purchase high quality photos and illustrations. If you don’t have an account, we can use ours.

*Special note for automotive customers: We have access to websites with vehicle photos for commercial use, but please note that if you ask for a very specific make/model/year/color/angle, we may not be able to find this exact photo. It’s best to have a few options in mind.

2.         Hire a designer to create original artwork.

If your budget does not allow...

3.         Carefully search online for resources that are free for commercial use.

4.         Contact the original artist and ask them if you can have their permission to use their artwork for                         your own purposes.