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If you are looking around in Google or other photo databases, you have probably come across something called usage rights.

If you don’t understand what ‘not filtered by license’ means, you definitely aren’t alone.  Many people have a problem understanding what licenses and usage rights mean regarding photos.

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What do the Usage Rights filters mean?

Not filtered by license:  This means that you haven’t yet selected a type of filter to organize the photos by.  In other words, with “not filtered by license” selected, you are looking at all types of photos with all types of usage rights.  This is how a lot of people get in trouble because they grab any photo they see, post it to their website, and then are hit with a Getty Images lawsuit for the unauthorized use of an image.  In order to find a photo that you can use, make sure to select something other than the “not filtered by license” option.

Labeled for reuse with modification:  This option means that you can use the photo commercially or non-commercially as long as you modify it.  In terms of what “modify” mean, I wasn’t able to find an answer in my research, so there is still a “gray” area there.

Labeled for reuse: With this option, users can reuse the photo commercially or non-commercially as-is.  No modification is needed.

Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification:  This means that you can use the photo in a non-commercial manner as long as you modify it.  By non-commercial, it means you cannot have the photo on products or be a part of a business website/printed materials.

Labeled for noncommercial reuse:  Finally, this option means that you can use the photo in a non-commercial manner as-is.  No modification is necessary. Remember, in all cases that you should always give authors attribution when using their photos.  Even if a photo doesn’t have a great amount of detail around the usage rights, authors of the photos should always be given credit for their work.

If you want to find website images, such as those that you would use on your homepage or the main pages of your website, and just purchase them, then I would use Shutterstock.

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  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! These copyright use terms are not intuitively clear. Your descriptions saved me a lot of trouble

      • Hello –
        Are you able to tell me how to find the owner of a photograph or image? I’ve been researching one in particular that I would like to use in the cover of a training program I’ve create and can’t find the owner of the image. I’ve uploaded it to image.google.com and no response. Thanks so much.

  • we are making a powerpoint presentation for the senior planning table…it is not for commercial use…just as a tool to teach seniors on how to tell a story in an interesting way…what should we do to safeguard our rights?

  • I run a forum where users upload images of their work. Some are not aware, or don’t care, about licensing.
    99% upload their own work, but some take images from Getty or similar. I am looking for a way to
    automatically filter out any known stock images. Is there any easy solution to this, like an API based webservice?

    Currently I am manually deleting and banning users for doing so. This is in no way
    how I think people should be treated, but I am afraid I’d have to shut down my service otherwise.

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