Images and content can be found by the millions with just a quick Google search. The internet is so abundant with photos and other media content that using one may not seem like it’s that big of a deal. However, even if you don’t see a copyright on the photo, that photo still isn’t yours to take. Uploading the image to a Facebook or Twitter post can be one thing, but borrowing an image to use in a client’s work can be a whole other nightmare. You can find yourself in some deep trouble – and in a big lawsuit – if you are using media content that you don’t have the permission to use. Here’s how you can be safe.

Internet content isn’t yours for the taking.

If you didn’t personally take the photo or create the artwork – it isn’t yours. Plain and simple. Using other people’s content requires special permission or you could find yourself in a ton of trouble, especially when it comes to designs or promotional work for clients. You and the client can end up with a lawsuit, which can be a devastating blow to your reputation. It’s easy to believe that copyrighted content consists of imagery that is watermarked with the creator’s name, or embellished with a “©.” Although that’s true, it also includes any media content created by somebody else. That means that even if it’s not formally protected, it’s still under copyright by its owner once it is produced. The best way to ensure that it’s safe to use is to do your own research.

Be responsible.

Never assume that because Google told you it was free to use that it’s actually free to use. It’s your personal responsibility to make sure that you have the rights to reuse content commercially or even non-commercially, and it can sometimes come with a price. If you don’t know the copyright status, find the owner and ask them yourself. As long as you have it in writing, you may use the image once permission is given. Some helpful tools to use is TinEye or Google Images– you can upload the image or simply drop in its URL and they can help find who owns it and may even give you the licensing status.

The best way to ensure that your media decisions aren’t going to come back to bite you in the you-know-where later on is to invest in a stock image subscription. A paid subscription gives you the permission to use thousands of images and you won’t have to worry if you have permission or not.

So, before you snag on image online to post along with your next article, make sure that you have the rights to reuse it. If you’re given the permission to use it, make sure that you’re giving credit where credit is due. Be smart and safe when you reuse content and remember that even though something is on the internet, it isn’t free.