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Warning about Google image search: How to use images and videos on your own website in a legally secure manner



Table of Contents

  1. Are all images protected by copyright?
  2. Can I use pictures that I have created myself?
  3. The right to one's own image
  4. Can I use images from Google Image Search?
  5. What is Google Advanced Image Search?
  6. Google image search warnings?
  7. Prevent Google Image Search from searching my pictures
  8. Buy images for websites: Licenses from image services

Are images protected by copyright?

Analog images are always protected under copyright law. Digital images can also be protected as “photographic works including works that are created similarly to photographic works” in accordance with Section 2 (1) No. 5 UrhG or at least as simple photographs in accordance with Section 72 (1) UrhG. However, the prerequisite for this is that it is a work within the meaning of the Copyright Act that it represents a personal intellectual creation according to Section 2 (2) UrhG. This applies regardless of where these images come from: from external websites, from image databases or from the Google image search.

For graphics that are kept simple, especially those that only consist of lettering without a graphic element, the copyright protection can be doubtful. However, you have to know that within the framework of the “little coin”, even the simplest designs can in principle be protected. As a rule, however, one can assume that there is copyright protection for graphics, logos, images and photographs on the Internet.

Use of self-created images on the Internet

If you have created the images for your own website, you can usually use them yourself. It is your picture. As the creator of the picture, according to § 12 UrhG, the author has the right to determine whether and how he publishes his picture.

According to § 15 UrhG, the photographer / author also has the exclusive right to use the work in both physical and non-physical form. This includes in particular the right to make it publicly available in accordance with § 19a UrhG, i.e. every publication of the image on the Internet.

The right to one's own picture: If strangers can be recognized in the pictures

The publication of self-made pictures can only become problematic if people are depicted in the respective portraits. In principle, portraits according to § 22 KunstUrhG may only be distributed or publicly displayed with the consent of the person depicted. However, in the event that the person depicted receives payment for the portrait, the law provides a fiction with regard to his consent, so that this is deemed to have been granted.

However, in Sections 23 and 24 of the KunstUrhG, the law names some exceptions to the requirement of consent, for example if the person depicted only appears as an accessory to a landscape or other public or if the person depicted is contemporary history. However, in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Federal Court of Justice, the latter must be weighed against the general personality rights of the person depicted if the recordings are from his or her private sphere.

Can I simply use images from the Google image search for my homepage?

On sites like the Google image search, there are countless many images on any topic. For site operators and web designers, the question regularly arises whether images from the Google image search can simply be copied and used for their own website.

Copyright also applies to images that are found using Google Image Search:

The fact that you can find an image using the Google image search does not mean that you can simply copy these images and embed them on your website. For this purpose, the author or the respective user of the images must also have allowed free use.

The mere fact that a website does not forbid Google image search to search through and display the images there, however, cannot be concluded that the author also wants to allow all website operators to use the images free of charge. Copying and using images from the Google image search or similar search services is therefore initially not allowed.

What is Google Advanced Image Search?

With the extended Google image search http://www.google.de/advanced_image_search you have the option of filtering according to certain license types or usage rights under "Limit results ..." → "Rights of use:".

Google provides the following options here:

  • not filtered by license
  • free to use or pass on
  • free to use or pass on - also for commercial purposes
  • free to use, pass on or change
  • free to use, pass on or change - also for commercial purposes

Here, site operators can choose, the authors have in these cases waived certain rights (such as the right to be paid for the use of the image). Depending on the type of usage rights, these images can then be used free of charge on your own homepage, used for commercial sites and even edited and passed on.

However, there are also some pitfalls to be aware of. German copyright law provides that an author always has the right to be named. This claim is completely independent of whether the use of the images is free or paid. You should therefore always attach the author's name directly to the image, even for images that come from the advanced Google image search.

Google image search warnings?

If you use images that you have found in the Google image search contrary to the terms of use or license on your website, you can be warned. For example, if you use an image on your company website, even though the author has not allowed “commercial use”.

The lack of an author's name can also lead to warnings.

As a website operator, how can I prevent my images from being searched by Google Image Search?

Many photographers, authors and website operators do not want their images to be displayed in the Google image search or want to block your images in the Google image search.

The easiest way to do this is to put the images on the server in a separate directory, for example:


This directory can then be blocked for the Google bots in the robots.txt.

Buy images for websites: Licenses from image services

In addition to the free image services, a large number of commercial image portals have now established themselves, which allow the use of images under certain conditions. Here, too, simple rights of use are granted in accordance with Section 31 (2) UrhG, which allow the respective owner to use works with limited space or content. The portals Pixelio, Fotolia, iStockphoto and Gettyimages are to be briefly presented as examples, the results of which are aimed at both normal website operators and “professional users” such as online magazines, depending on the quality and prices of the images to be found there.


The Fotolia service allows you to purchase image material through so-called "credits" after free registration, which you must purchase beforehand. Depending on the image size, the service requires an increasing number of "credits" in the area of ​​the standard license. A standard license is particularly suitable for use on the web or in print. In addition, a so-called "extended license" can be acquired, which enables you to resell the images yourself in any form.


The American image database iStockphoto has a very large archive of royalty-free image material. Here, too, the user acquires credits to download the images. The individual images cost between $ 1 and $ 20 in web-compatible resolution. A special feature is that iStockphoto also offers images from brands such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, which can be used in an editorial environment.

Getty Images

Finally, the professional photo service Gettyimages should be mentioned. The service differentiates its professional images into royalty-free and licensed images. Royalty-free images can be used multiple times and for multiple websites. The price of an image depends on the file size and the number of people using it. Images requiring a license, on the other hand, are only licensed with restrictions in terms of size, placement, duration of use and geographical distribution, whereby the customer must specify the intended use of the image.


Pixelio is an image database which, in return for free registration, allows the uploaded images to be used on the platform free of charge for "editorial purposes" in accordance with the license conditions. However, the quality of the images posted there often leaves a lot to be desired. The prerequisite for use is that a reference is made to Pixelio and the photographer. Editing of the pictures is not allowed.

Not every picture can simply be taken over for your own website. You can find valuable practical tips and checklists on eRecht24 Premium.

Flickr & Co: Beware of images under a Creative Commons license

On picture portals such as Flickr, in particular, you can often find pictures that are under a so-called Creative Commons license. This is a big difference to Google image search, where this function can only be set via the search options. Creative Commons is a standard license agreement with which the author can release his images for free use under certain conditions.

A Creative Commons license is nothing more than a simple right of use within the meaning of Section 31 (2) UrhG, which entitles the respective owner to use the image in the manner permitted, i.e. as specified by the Creative Commons license. In addition, it remains possible for other users to use the image under the same conditions.

There are different license models, so read the license agreement carefully beforehand. Often the user is obliged under the CC license:

  • to name and link the name of the author
  • do not make any edits to the image
  • to name and link the respective license
  • to use the work only on non-commercial sites

How do I find out which images I can use on flickr?

1. Go to flickr.com.

2. Now enter your search term in the search field. In our example, we are looking for images related to ZDF.

3. You will now see the results of the search. However, it is not yet clear which images you can use free of charge. To do this, click on the "Advanced Search" button.

4. You will now see the advanced search page.

5. Scroll down the page until you come to the Creative Commons section. You can recognize it by the eye-catching logo.
Now select the following options:

  • Search only in content with a Creative Commons license (This filter ensures that only content with this license is displayed.)
  • Search for content for commercial use (This filter ensures that only content is displayed for which the authors have given permission for commercial use.)
  • Search for content for change, adaptation or editing (This filter ensures that only content is displayed for which the authors have given their consent to the editing of the images.)
  • Finally, click the Search button to apply these filters.

6. The filters have now been activated and you will see all the images that you can edit and use commercially. You will find that the results have changed.

7. If you use an image, we recommend that you provide this image with a reference to the source. This can look like this: Source: Flickr, "Bildautor"


The second part of the article deals with the question of when you can use logos from Facebook, YouTube and other companies on your website:

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube & Co .: When can you use third-party logos on your own website?