Every day, millions of photos are published online. They appear on websites, social media and apps. Most people use so-called open-licence stock photos, i.e. images for which the authors have waived the copyright. This is why many websites and social media profiles have the same photos.

How do I check whether a photo belongs to a person or was downloaded from the Internet? How do you verify that a photo you have received from someone in a private message, such as on social media or in a dating app, is real? How do we protect ourselves against the illegal distribution of our photos and how do we check if someone has already done so? These and other questions are answered in my today’s post.

Why are photos from the internet so often stolen?

Unfortunately, other people’s photos are very often stolen and used deliberately. “Thieves” download photos from the internet and attribute their authorship to them or use them to impersonate other people. There are also spam sites that copy everything they can.

However, despite everything, copyright infringement or theft most often occurs due to the simple ignorance and unawareness of users. Many internet users do not realise that images that are for example in Google Images or on social media cannot just be downloaded and published wherever they like.

For this reason, I would like to warn you that not all images on the Internet can be downloaded, modified, published or forwarded. On the contrary, most authors reserve all rights to them.

How do I know which photos from the internet can be used?

This raises the question of which images from the internet, e.g. from Google, can be downloaded and used for one’s purposes and which cannot?

Fortunately, Google itself provides the answer to this question. All you need to do is narrow down your search results to images with Creative Commons or other licences. To do this in Google images, go to Tools > Usage rights and the type of licence you are interested in. If you choose to filter by images with a Creative Commons licence, the selection of available images will certainly be reduced.

It is important to know that if you choose to filter by images with commercial licences, you will still not be able to use all images as you like. For example, it will often be necessary to tag the author.

Therefore, before using any image from Google, it is important to check exactly what type of licence we are dealing with. To do this, click on the desired image and, when the preview opens on the right-hand side, select the “Learn more” option. The link will redirect you to complete information on the licence and the possibility of using the photos from the page in question.

​​Is there an easier way to search for free images from the Internet?

I realise that it is time-consuming to read the detailed terms and conditions of service on individual sites. What’s more, the difficult ‘legal’ language regarding licence conditions proves incomprehensible to many users.

Therefore, below I list platforms with free images with a CCO licence, i.e. images for which the authors have waived copyright. This means that such images can be freely downloaded, shared, altered and distributed for any purpose (both non-commercial and commercial), and without having to label the author.

Where to find free images from the internet? The 5 main platforms

  1. Pixabay
  2. Pexels
  3. Unsplash
  4. Picjumbo
  5. Startup Stock Photos

How to check if a photo is real or not? 4 ways

Let’s come straight to the point, i.e. how to check if a photo is from the internet. Below you will find the 4 easiest ways.

1. Check whether a photo is from the Internet using Google Images

How to check if a photo is real or on the internet - google imagesOpen Google Images and select the camera icon (the Image Search function). With Google Images you can check a photo in 3 ways:

  • by dragging and dropping it,
  • using the “upload file” option,
  • by pasting the URL (link)*.

*How do I check the URL of an image?

If you don’t want to download an image but just want to check its source, simply copy the URL of the image. To do this, right-click on the image and select “Copy image address”. If you are using your phone, simply hold your finger on the photo.

Once you have uploaded the photo or pasted its URL, select “Find image source” or, if you are using a smartphone, the magnifying glass and globe icon. If the photo appears on many other sites, you can almost be sure it is from the Internet.

2. Check the photo directly on the site to find out if it is from the Internet

You don’t need to either download the photo to your computer or phone or copy its URL. An even simpler and quicker way to check if a photo is from the Internet is to use Google Lens directly on the page.

To do this, right-click the image and select ‘Search image with Google Lens’, or if you are using a smartphone, hold it down and select ‘Search with Google Lens’. Then select ‘Find image source’ or the magnifying glass and globe icon, depending on which device you are using.

3. Check if the photo is real or from the web using the Google Lens mobile app

How to check if a photo is real or is on the internet - Google lensAnother option is to download the Google Lens app from the Google Play Store, AppStore or directly from a Google-owned website. What do you get with the app? Google Lens allows you to check your photos from your phone’s gallery. So if you’ve received photos from someone via email, WhatsApp or Messenger, all you have to do is download them and then check them with Lens. To do this, open the app and select the most recently downloaded photo from the gallery. Then click the magnifying glass and globe icon to see if that photo is on other sites.

4. use TinEye to check if a photo is real or from the Internet

How to check if a photo is real or on the internet - use TinEyeAn alternative to the tools offered by Google described above is the TinEye website. This site not only allows you to check whether a photo is from the Internet but also to sort the results by date. So if the photo in question has appeared on other sites, you can see on which ones it was added most recently.

Why should you check whether a photo is real?

When using the web, you need to watch out for scammers at every turn. Many of them claim to be people they are not. They often use other people’s images and fake photos. Therefore, before you trust someone, and especially before you meet them in person, check that the photo they have sent you is actually theirs. If it turns out that it appears on many other websites, it is better to give up any attempt to contact.

People who publish their photos online, whether on social media or blogs, should also check that no unauthorised person is using them. Unfortunately – there is no shortage of people who would like to claim authorship of someone else’s work and still make money from it.

Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, many people use other people’s photos out of simple ignorance.

It is worth making them aware and demanding the removal of these photos in order not to share their hard work and property with others.

How do I check whether my photos are being used on the Internet?

So how do you check whether someone unauthorised is using your photos? Using exactly the same methods I described above. Simply check your images in Google Images or the Google Lens app or use the TinEye website.

If you find that your copyrighted images appear on other sites, the answer will be obvious. What you do with it next will be up to you.

Someone has stolen my photos – what should I do?

If you have noticed that someone has used your images on their site or social media, it is best to write to that person straight away and order their removal. Inform them that you are the author of the photographs and that you reserve all rights to them.

Alternatively, you can act even more “officially” and send a special document – a cease and desist notice for copyright infringement. You can find a template here.

The above actions help in 99% of cases and further intervention is usually not necessary.

Worse, if the “thief” ignores the summons and continues to use your photos. In this case, it may be necessary to contact a lawyer.

It is a good idea to monitor what happens to our photos and also to check the photos we receive from others. This can prevent many unpleasant situations.


Hi, my name is Marta. I am a content marketing specialist and copywriter with over 10 years of experience. On my blog I cover topics related to marketing, copywriting and blogging.

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