If you are one of my regular readers, you know how much I hate stock photos. Careless use of images of cookie-cutter professionals does nothing to set your website apart from the competition. But besides making it seem as if your business is generic, this practice can make you liable to charges of copyright violation if you are not careful. Of course, it’s not just stock photos that can get you into trouble. It is any photo that you use without permission. So, take steps to protect yourself and your business.
There are places to use stock imagery. If you choose to do so, one thing to be ABSOLUTELY certain of is that you have the legal right to use whatever pictures you put on your website. Here are some steps to take: first, even if you ask your web designer to find images for you, purchase them yourself. This might cost you more in the short run, since she might get a better deal by buying in volume. But if she purchases, she holds the license. (Plus, if you purchase, you know that the pictures were sourced in the right way. Ignorance is unfortunately not a defense when it comes to copyright law.) It is preferable in the long run to pay a bit more than to find yourself on the wrong side of ticked off Getty and not be able to prove that you have the legal right to display any and all images on your website.
A quick Google search on “stock image copyright infringement” should be enough to motivate you to take photo rights seriously. You will see many stories about small businesses that got caught on the wrong side of this issue and had to pay thousands of dollars. Or take for instance the artist Richard Prince (No, not the artist formerly known as Prince.) who, after having settled a three-year-long copyright battle with a photographer, has put together a new exhibition consisting entirely of the Instagram images of others. This takes the old debate about what counts as art to a whole different level.
My preference for imagery is to find a designer who will create themed and unique imagery instead. There are examples of this all over my website. Or, hire a photographer to take custom pictures. Here is an example of a site that did that. You avoid all the issues above and the photos are unique to your site so you don’t ever have to worry about someone seeing an image on your site that they saw on a competitor’s site. These approaches are a little more expensive, but pack so much more punch! Plus, when weighed against buying a bunch of stock photos, custom photography isn’t as much pricier as people think.