Using Images from the Internet

Internet tools like Google Images and Bing Images have made it very easy to find and download images from the internet. In the process, they also make it very easy to violate copyright law. Now we may think, “Our church is so small. No one will notice if we use a copyrighted image. And if they do notice, they won’t care.” However, one of our GCI churches in the U.S. was recently fined $600 for using a copyrighted image on their website. It may surprise you to learn that some image licensing companies have on staff or contract people to search for images they license for the purpose of enforcing their copyright.

Quite simply, there are good, solid reasons why we shouldn’t violate copyrights. The most obvious is that it’s illegal and there can be penalties. When you use images without permission, it exposes your church and GCI to unnecessary liability and risk of prosecution. Maybe less obvious is that someone worked on that image. Whether a photograph or a drawing, it took time and effort by someone to make it. When we legally obtain a license to use the image, that person gets paid a small amount. Most of these artists and photographers do not make a lot of money on their art, so you’re really stealing their livelihood too.

So what are our options? There are places that offer images that are free to use. offers the ability to search for free images and lists some free image resources. In addition, other websites like,,, and can be good sources of images.

But what if we can’t find the image we want for free? Then consider licensing an image from a stock photo website. Websites like Fotosearch, 123rf, ShutterStock, CanStockPhoto and iStockPhoto have many good quality images we can license. In fact, many times, similar or identical images may be available on more than one stock photo website, often with a large price difference, so it pays to check multiple websites before we pay for an image. If you plan to use a lot of images for your website, worship, bulletins and other print media, you may want to look at a member website like ShareFaith where you can get access to all their images and other media for around $200 per year. To save money on this and other options, it pays to check a reputable coupon website like RetailMeNot for discounts before you buy.

Whether we find an image for free or to pay for, we need to make sure we check the licensing requirements before we use the image. There are often limitations on how you can use the image, or attribution requirements that may or may not be acceptable. For example, Worship House Media has some great images, but they only allow you to use them for projection during worship services. And requires a visible copyright notice next to every image we use from their website.