It’s important to understand that “Google Images” is not a collection of images owned by Google, but is a search engine which finds images from across the web. Copyright in those images is ultimately owned by the person who created the image, but the copyright owner may grant permission for the image to be used by someone else, in various ways. The permission may allow someone to publish the image in a book, magazine, newspaper or website, or may allow some other use of the image.
If you want to use an image you find on Google Images, you have two main options.
Fair use is a US legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. It is similar to the fair dealing doctrines used in some countries outside the United States. Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship. Fair use provides for the legal use of copyrighted material in another's work but, because it is a legal principle, it may still be subject to legal debate.
Fair use is intended to balance the interests of copyright holders with the public interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works, by allowing certain limited uses that might otherwise be considered infringement.
Find “free-to-use” images
When you do a Google Search, you can narrow down your results to find images that you may have permission to use. To do this, you can use the Search tools > Usage rights filter on the image search results page, or use the Usage rights filter in Advanced Image Search
How usage rights work
Usage rights help you find content that you can use above and beyond fair use. Site owners can use licenses to let you know if and how content on their sites can be reused. The usage rights filter in Advanced Search shows you content that is either labeled with a Creative Commons
or similar license, or is in the public domain. For images, the usage rights filter also shows you images labeled with the GNU Free Documentation
Types of usage rights
Free to use or share: Allows you to copy or redistribute its content if the content remains unchanged.
Free to use, share, or modify: Allows you to copy, modify, or redistribute in ways specified in the license.
Commercially: If you want content for commercial use, be sure to select an option that includes the word "commercially."
Important: Check the license
Google can't tell if the license label is legitimate, so Google doesn't know if the content is lawfully licensed. Before reusing content, make sure that its license is legitimate and check with the publishing website the exact terms of reuse. For example, the license might require that you give credit to the image creator when you use the image.
Report incorrect usage rights
Do I still need permission to use an image I found on Google Image Search?
Yes you do need permission in order to use it. Google does not own the images found via Google Search. The "Usage rights" Search tool is provided to help you find images which may be suitable for your use. It is not a grant of permission to use the images.
You must contact the owner of the image (typically whoever first posted the image on the web) and obtain his/her permission in order to use it, especially if you intend to use it publicly or commercially. Using an image without the written permission of the copyright owner can turn out to be very expensive!
Can Google tell me who the copyright owner is?
No, Google can't share user information as that would be a violation of our privacy agreements with our users. We suggest looking on the site in question for a way to contact the site's webmaster.