Be sure to read this short guide before using images from Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay or other free image platforms!
But if it’s so popular, how can it be a legal problem?
According to Google, the free image platform Unsplash is the most popular stick photo platform on the internet. Millions of people download their stock photos on Unsplash every month, and if they don’t do it there, they use sites like Pexels or Pixabay.
If you’re also using one of these free image platforms, you should read this article, because the world of stock photos is changing dramatically.
What used to be free no longer is, and because of the recent advancements in tracking technology and AI, users of these free image platforms are at risk receiving massive amounts of copyright infringement letters in the years to come. These copyright infringement claims often range between 1000 – 10,000 USD per infringement.
Why you’re running a huge risk – three simple reasons
At first glance, everything seems fine. All images are conveniently sorted into categories on the free image platforms, and according to their terms you can use the stock photos for all purposes:
“Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash.”
This is very easy for platforms like Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay to claim. And yet, at the same time, they write in their extended user terms that they don’t have any legal responsibility whatsoever. This basically means that when you receive a copyright infringement letter for using one of their photos, they take no responsibility, and so there is only one person to pay – you!
You may think that it can’t be that big of a deal because if millions of people use these websites every week, they can’t all be doing something illegal, right?
Naturally, it’s not illegal to visit the websites or download their images. However, once you start using the images for your social media, blog, newsletter, and other marketing, you’re actually running a very real risk:
1) ANYONE CAN UPLOAD A PHOTO ON THE FREE WEBSITES
On platforms like Unsplash, Pixabay and Pexels, anyone can upload pictures. But since the knowledge of copyrights is not widespread yet, it still happens that people upload pictures that they did not take and have no rights to. This creates a potential problem for everyone using images from Unsplash because they could be violating a photographer’s copyright without even knowing it. However, ‘I didn’t know’ is not a viable legal argument when they receive a copyright infringement letter.
2) THE PEOPLE IN THE IMAGES HAVE NOT APPROVED THE USE OF THEIR LIKENESS
The images may not have the proper model or property releases. That means that the people in the images may not have legally authorized the use of their likeness for commercial purposes. Bear in mind that this also applies to images that contain famous people, brands, landmarks, etc. While the free image platforms require that these releases to be obtained before they’re uploaded, they don’t verify that in any way.
That gives the people and brands on these images the right to send you a copyright infringement letter when you use any of the images they appear on. And since 80% of all Unsplash and Pexels images contain one or more human beings on them, the problem is indeed massive.
3) THE TRACKING IMAGES AND THEIR CONTENT HAS IMPROVED DRAMATICALLY
Up until last year, the possibility to track this has been limited. There have been hundreds of copyright infringement cases already, as we have previously described on our blog, but the problem is now starting to grow exponentially because of recent advances in AI and visual detection technologies.
We’re sorry to say that the problem doesn’t end here. According to Unsplash, more than 18,700 popular websites have integrated their image library (API) into their platform.
This means that when you use popular services like Mailchimp, Wix, Squarespace, and many others, the image libraries on these platforms are often not their own but provided by one of the free image platforms.
Companies like Mailchimp and Wix have obviously decided to integrate with these image APIs, because they’re free, but the impact is that you as a customer will be running an even bigger risk when selecting images for your next content and campaigns. That means that you don’t just have to be cautious when using the free image platforms themselves, but also when you use content marketing platforms that partner with the free image platforms (often you can see whether they use a free integration when you browse their image libraries, so look out for this in the future).
Three things you can do to stay out of trouble
There is a solution to almost everything in life – and these challenges are no exception.
Here are three things that you can do to avoid receiving copyright infringement claims in the future:
- STOP USING FREE IMAGE PLATFORMS
If you still insist on using free images in your communication and marketing, avoid using images with people or famous brands and landmarks on them. Get these images elsewhere.
You’re still running a legal risk since you don’t know for sure who has the copyright to the image and because you have no insurance if you get into trouble. But at least you’ve reduced the risk a bit by not using images with people or trademarks on them.
- START USING PAID STOCK PHOTO PLATFORMS INSTEAD
We know that we’re 100% biased when giving you this advice, and we know that it’s not great news to have to pay for stuff that used to seem free, but it is the best way to avoid getting into legal trouble. We created our global insurance as an important element of JumpStory because we want to be on the side of the users, too. Not just the creators.
On JumpStory, you pay just 29 USD/month to get unlimited access AND get a global insurance on all images. Alternative platforms to JumpStory include stock photo websites such as Shutterstock, Getty Images, Pond5 and 123rf and they also offer a nice selection of stock photos with an insurance included. However, at a significantly higher price than JumpStory.
- MAKE YOUR OWN PHOTOS
This is of course a much more time consuming and difficult road to go down than using stock photos, but we suggest using a combination of the two. Invest the time and money in hiring a professional photographer now and again so that you get some unique and cool content from there and can then combine it with stock photo platforms like JumpStory.
Here are some great platforms to book professional photographers online:
If you want to try out Jumpstory for free for 7 days, simply click here to sign up …
About the author
He is one of Denmark’s most well-known entrepreneurs and business authors. He has been nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year and is amongst Denmark’s 100 most promising leaders according to a major Danish business newspaper.
In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, Jonathan Løw is the former Head of Marketing at the KaosPilots – named Top 10 most innovative business schools in the world by FastCompany. He is also former Startup-Advisor and Investor at Accelerace – the leading investment fund for startups in Denmark.