To Free or Not to Free? Are You Sure That “Free Stock Photo” You Downloaded is Safe To Use?

Free Stuff

It’s been common knowledge for quite some time that photographs, illustrations and visual representations in general are simply must-haves for any web domain, social media account or promotional campaign.

Using attractive visuals was already an important tactic for traditional, offline magazines, but it’s relevance has been magnified by the online environment. To point out just a hint, Facebook posts including images drive twice as much engagement as a simple text status, while tweets with photos are shared/ retweeted 150% more than those with no imagery attached.

Simply put, if you want to communicate in 2018 you must use images.

For many new blogs or website owners, buying stock photos (although being the easiest way to high quality & legally safe imagery) is a secondary option, following the establishment of “free stock photo” websites. This may, occasionally, be a cheap solution but let’s take a minute to consider the potential risks and downsides.

1. Free images are rarely free of liabilities

First of all, most images advertised as “free for use” are actually only free for personal use. If you intend to include them in commercial campaigns you should always double-check their availability for such cases.

Second, although labeled as “free”, even such images bear the rights reserved by their creators. Some creators may only allow their usage as long as the image is not modified in any way or the author is credited whenever his/her image is used. It is always wise to check the potential limitations imposed by creators, although it is generally a complicated process.

2. Free photos websites do not protect you from possible disputes

If an author stumbles upon your website and recognizes one of his/her images, used in an improper manner, he/she is fully entitled to file complaints against you. Invoking that you obtained the respective image from a website self-advertised as offering “free photos” will not represent an admissible defense. Always remember that responsibility for the usage of creative content lies fully with the publisher (namely you) and not with the distributor (free-photos website).

3. Free photos can easily harm your brand

Given their limited numbers and the 1+billion websites in the world today, there are pretty high chances that the free photos you chose for your website have already been (and will continue to be) used on at least a hundred/ thousand other websites.

If you consider the fact that our visual memory vastly outperforms our reading/ hearing memory, you suddenly discover the high odds of delivering your visitors repetitive, deja-vu content.

This in turn means substantially less authenticity for your brand and business and an increased chance of being perceived as unreliable or even fake.


There you have it - 3 strong reasons to reconsider your free-photo strategy. It may look cheap to use them, but they are very likely to expose you to other, very high costs, in both the short & long run.

It’s not all bad news, however. Prices for licensed images, videos and illustrations have become highly affordable for virtually any business, and they protect you against both legal troubles and poor quality content for your business. It’s worth reconsidering your options, isn’t it?

Photo credits: Mrchan.

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