SEOWeb Design

Don’t feed the copyright trolls

By 4th August 2018 One Comment
Don’t feed the copyright trolls Purple Web Marketing

Where and how to source public domain and creative commons images for your website.

We had a client recently who received a letter from someone purporting to be the copyright owner of an image that was on their website. He demanded they either buy a license to use his image, or cease and desist using it.

They did the latter, and he followed up with a demand for even more money than the license cost for supposed ‘damages’.

A quick Google search found this particular chap was well known for making his money exclusively from suing people for copyright infringements. Oh, except for the approx £30k he had defrauded the government of in benefit payments that he was in turn fined for.

So quite the palaver.

The best way to avoid any situation like this is to source images from well known sources that carefully check and police the licenses of the images they offer.

A few favourites:


Most images shared through Wikipedia are public domain. You shouldn’t assume that’s the case though, always open an image and click ‘More Details’ to see what, if any, license restrictions might exist.


Unsplash’s tagline is “Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers” and they’re not wrong. This isn’t the place to find clipart or basic illustrations, their images are quite gorgeous.

In most cases their photos are either entirely free to use or just require ‘attribution’, meaning you name the photographer near where the photo sits on your page.

Creative Commons Search

There’s two versions of this, the one I recommend is their beta (linked) because it not only searches image sources by default, but has an option to generate license information for every image so you can just paste that onto your page et voilà.

There are a couple of check boxes on this search page worth ticking:

  • Use for commercial purposes
  • Modify, adapt, or build upon

The first one is perhaps the most important – without that you simply cannot use an image on your business’ blog.

Using images for SEO

It’s well worth having images on your blog posts, not only can they be striking and attract attention but they’re beneficial for SEO too. They allow you to use a couple of extra tags (‘alt’ and ‘title’) plus even the file name has a tiny bit of SEO authority. But you need to have proper permission to use them.

In the case of the example I started this post with, the image had originally been found on a website claiming to host images that were free to use, even though that turned out not to be the case.

I’ve heard of copyright trolls intentionally releasing their imagery to ‘public domain’ sites, or even making ‘free to use’ sites themselves, so they can then turn around and sue anybody using them.

The moral of the story – don’t feed the copyright trolls. And make sure whatever food you do have, is responsibly-sourced.


Author Peter

SEO expert, web developer & designer, all-round nice guy, and ravenous information devourer.

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