The #1 Mistake People Make When Searching for Visuals (Hint: It's Using Google Images)

The #1 Mistake People Make When Searching for Visuals (Hint: It's Using Google Images)

Are you doing something illegal on accident? 

As you may or may not know, I'm passionate about getting more people to use visuals in their presentations, trainings, and lectures. That's because there really isn't much else that's as effective at helping our audience pay attention, understand, and remember our content

Once people are convinced of the power of using visuals, many of them start using Google Images to find them. There is a potential downside to this, because a lot of people search for visuals using Google Images without realizing it puts them at risk for violating copyright law.

Yes, Google Images might be convenient, but the risk for copyright violation is high enough for me that I never use google images to find visuals. NEVER. EVER. 

Before you think this doesn’t matter or I’m being overly cautious, read this post about how using an image from Google cost this blogger $7,500 in copyright infringement

Don't make the mistake of thinking that doesn't apply to you because you aren't a blogger. This applies to everyone--professors, academics, researchers, and evaluators included.

Please remember that I’m on your side and I know you don’t have a lot of time. So I wouldn’t create a whole post about this if I didn’t think it was critically important!

Copyright, Attribution, and Usage Basics

Disclaimer: I AM NOT A LAWYER. This is not legal advice. This is just my everyday non-legal understanding and summary of these different licensing types. I encourage you to do your own research on this topic.

So what are the rules about how to use graphics, images, visuals, icons, etc?

One thing to know is that in the United States, the moment someone creates something, it’s copyrighted to them. It’s theirs and you cannot assume you have permission to use it.

The author/creator has complete control over the license when they put a graphic, visual, etc. online. The creator gets to choose whether it’s:

  • for viewing only: no one can buy it or use it in any way, for any purpose

  • for purchase: someone can buy it and use it for almost any purpose, with some restrictions (like turning it into a physical product, like a t-shirt, and making profit, etc)

  • creative commons: (others can use it for free) WITH restrictions

  • creative commons zero/public domain (others can use it for free with almost no restrictions)

Visuals available for purchase are typically found on stock photo sites such as iStock Photo or Shutterstock. 

Personally, I prefer to use creative commons photos (i.e., FREE photos). There are 6 layers of licenses under creative commons with restrictions.

These licenses specify whether you need to give credit (i.e., cite) the original creator when you use the graphics, you can make any changes to the image, and/or it’s allowed to be used for commercial purposes or profit.

For most academics, researchers, and evaluators the most applicable one is giving credit to the creator (because I’m assuming you aren’t using the visual to sell a product/make a profit). This makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Think about what happens when you’re writing an article.

When you quote or paraphrase another researcher, what do you have to do?

You cite them. And why? Well, for one it’s copyrighted and you are legally required to. Second, it’s ethical practice. The same idea applies to using visuals you didn’t create.

And good news...there is a “jackpot” of creative commons photos. With CC0 (creative commons zero) or public domain visuals, you can use them for free, for (almost) any purpose, without any attribution (i.e., citation) of the original creator.

By now, my guess is that you want to shout at me, “But, Echoooo! You can filter your Google images search by license!”

Yes. I know. And I will admit that in the past year Google’s Image search has gotten a lot better at this. I will also admit that for the most part, the images do come from creative commons websites.

But here’s the catch--you have no guarantee that the image was labeled with the correct license. And we all know that ignorance does not excuse us to violate the law.

This is so important, I need to repeat it: You cannot assume that 100% of the images found through Google Images are labeled with the correct license!

What does that mean for you, practically speaking? It means you have do a little extra digging, and be extra aware, while you’re searching. It is up to you to double confirm that the image is truly available under creative commons.

In other words, using Google Images requires a two-step verification on your part. That’s extra work for you. That means if you want to use images legally (and I really hope you do, because I do) then Google Images takes just as long, if not longer, than other options.

Google Images isn't even the most efficient search strategy!

Look. I get it. The reason you're using Google Images in the first place is because you're trying to save time.

But what if I told you there was actually a better, more efficient way, to search for photos?

A way to search for and use photos that:

  • Uses your time strategically and effectively, so you don't waste time searching for photos

  • Gives you more confidence you're obtaining photos legally, with less effort than using Google Images

  • Helps you go from text-only slides to slides with effective photos in a short amount of time

It took me many, many years to perfect my process of searching for, and using, visuals. But here's an example of how well my system works:

I recently created a webinar, and it took me less than 10 minutes to add all my visuals to the slides. LESS. THAN. 10. MINUTES!

How long does it take you to add visuals? What would it be like to have that time cut by HALF? What else could you do with that time, across a whole year?

What's more efficient than google images? Having a VISUAL DATABASE

If you want to learn how to make your own, I’ve made a sample email course available to help get you started.


with joy,
Dr. Echo Rivera