If you like being sued this is the option for you
Just because an image is available to see in the public domain doesn't mean it is free from copyright. This is a very important thing to remember. If you use an image on your blog, website, advertising material, business cards or logo you need to know 100% you have the rights to use and use it for that purpose.
It's just a small image and I am small time no one will notice
They'll find you I can guarantee it. All other these images are marked. I am not talking about a water mark. They have digital marks ones that web spiders are lookking for 24/7. You may think the web is a big place and it is, but with the processing power available to today it's not that hard to map the whole internet in less than 3 months. Now that is amazing, but what it means is you will get found out.
So whats the worst that can happen
So you'll get caught, you'll just say sorry and remove it right? Wrong. You will have to pay and you will have to pay on their terms because you are in breach of copyright fair and square.
Lets use an example of a recent drama we had with a client creating their own content on the cheap using pictures off Google search. They recieved a demand and fine in excess of $100,000 USD from a massive and powerful multi-national with strong local ties and big legal team on retainer.
Wow they must have been using there artwork on a billboard or something right? Wrong. The picture they used was 50px by 50px and pretty average looking and they had it display as small as 30x30px. Our client was in a panic and rightly so. I thought well maybe we can by the licence and come in to save the day.
So I look up the cost of using the picture in that size. Holy cow, it's $80,000USD for 12 months only in one medium and I know our client has been printing it as well. Check mate there is not much we can do here. Your best bet is to pay for the use and hope they don't push for the fine or dig deeper.
This ended in tears. Luckly they had the resources to pay for the licence. However, the employee who was overseeing the blog and cheap assing the pictures was fired and the company had to cancel plans for expansion.
So what do you do
There are copyright free directories for stock artwork and photography. Find them and use them within the licencing agreements. Yes they are not as nice or big as the paid ones, but hey they are free. People work hard to make the artwork, just like you work hard in your business. The earned the right to be paid.
So what paid options are there
There are many again and cost per picture ranges from $1 up to $100,000+. We use Shutterstock it has a good fair selection and extended licences when you need to use something for t-shirts or product labels. They have options from $1 a picture on annual subscription up $200 for extended licences. A cheaper alternative to getting sued.