It’s on the Internet, so it is free to use, right?

No. Absolutely not.

Both images and words are protected under copyright laws. Just because you found a pretty picture in a Google image search, that does not make it free for you to use as you wish.

And when you get caught, you may very likely receive an expensive bill or an expensive lawsuit.

Santa Monica, California

Photo by Tyann Marcink

My story:

A couple of years ago, I did a reverse image search for my photo I was using as the lead image for one of my vacation rental properties. I found that a few vacation rental owners had downloaded that photo and another one and used them both to advertise their own properties.

So not cool.

I hope you learned about plagiarism and copying your neighbor’s homework answers when you were a kid in school. Consequences may have been an immediate failing grade or even expulsion from class.

Now you are an adult, and the same rules still apply. Go figure. You still cannot lift the description from your neighbor’s vacation rental condo to use for your own listing.

And you still cannot use the gorgeous mountain sunset photos that you know were created from the nearby “scenic view” pull over spot (but was done by a local photography enthusiast) to advertise your vacation rental cabin.

You might argue that the photograph of the scenic view is simply “educating” travelers about the area. Nope. You are using the image to promote the area your property is in, effectively advertising your location.

I am not a lawyer, and I cannot give you legal advice. As a knowledgeable friend and a photographer who uses her skills to pay the electric bill, this is my public service announcement to save you the headache and the anxiety of a pricey bill showing up in your email or a costly lawsuit delivered to your door.

Do not use photographs, images, or graphics that you have not paid for or created yourself.

It is that simple. Pay for it or do it yourself.

How I found my stolen images

Google has an easy search feature specifically for images.

  • Go to
  • Click “image” in the upper right corner of the page.
  • Drag and drop an image file into the search field.
Google image search

This is the Google image search screen.

Back to my story…

I was not happy. Okay, so it was more like almost livid that my neighbors had stolen my images.

After double-checking that the images were indeed mine that they were using in their vacation rental property listings, I picked up the phone and started making calls.

My phone call to the first neighbor informed him that I noticed they were using my images, that the images are protected under copyright, and that they need to remove the photos from their listings immediately.

My neighbor played the “I didn’t know the photos were not public” card, apologized for the error, and promptly removed the photos from his listing.

Remember, just because a photo or image is on the Internet, that does not make it free public use.

A second neighbor ignored my voicemail and my email.

So I emailed a second time, with stronger wording. This was their last chance, and then my next step would be to contact the listing site about the stolen photos. This step usually results in the listing being taken down completely. (Remember in school when the cheaters were expelled?)

The owner complied, finally, and I did not pursue further action.

Not every photographer will give you a chance to simply remove an image before pursuing legal action, though. Some photographers will immediately send you a bill for the use of the image or have their lawyer send you other wording on nicer paper.

How to legally use an image you find in a Google search.

Yes, there is a legal way to use the images you find on the Internet: You must track down the creator of the image.

It will not always be easy, though. And sometimes it is downright difficult to do. In that case, do not use the image. There are other images available that you can license and use to promote your vacation rental.

Once you do track down the owner of the photograph you would like to use, ask the photographer if you may purchase a license to use the image to advertise your vacation rental property.

A second option is to use an image licensing site such as Getty Images, Shutterstock, or iStock. Depending on the image, the size, the use, and the length of time you want to license it for, you could pay between $15 and $1500 for a single image.

Be smart, don’t cheat.

If you have extra photo spots to fill in your vacation rental property listing, obtain additional photos legally. Press the shutter button yourself or pay someone to do it for you.

If you find your images have been stolen…

The first thing you can do is contact the person who is using your photos and request that the images be taken down. Sometimes, that is all that you need to do.

If you need to send them a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown Notice, you can grab the form and a very good explanation about it here.

If you need to go further, it is time to contact your lawyer.

Have you had your images stolen and used by someone else? Have you used photos you found on the Internet and not checked that you are using them legally?

By the way, the best way to stay on top of all the good stuff is to get on my vacation rental marketing email list.

You can sign up right here:

Tyann Marcink
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos 
The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rental Photography