Exploring the Legality of Monetizing Google Images on Social Media: What You Need to Know

The internet is home to a vast collection of images, and Google Images is a popular platform for finding visual content. With the rise of social media, many individuals and businesses seek to monetize their online presence. However, when it comes to using images found on Google for commercial purposes, there are legal considerations that must be taken into account. In this article, we will explore whether it is possible to legally monetize Google Images on social media and shed light on best practices for using visual content online.

Understanding Copyright Laws

Copyright laws are in place to protect the rights of content creators. When an image is created, the creator automatically holds the copyright to that work, granting them exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and monetize it. It is crucial to understand that copyrighted images cannot be used without permission from the copyright holder, except in cases where fair use applies.

Google Images and Licensing Filters

Google Images functions as a search engine that indexes images available on the web. It does not own the copyright to the images it displays in search results. When searching for images, Google provides filters to help users find content that may have been licensed for reuse. These filters include options such as “Labeled for reuse with modification” or “Labeled for noncommercial reuse.”

While these filters are useful in identifying images that may be available for certain types of reuse, they do not guarantee the absence of copyright protection. It is crucial to verify the licensing information provided by the image’s source and to obtain proper permissions when necessary.

Best Practices for Using Images on Social Media

  1. Create Your Own Visual Content: The most foolproof way to avoid any copyright issues is to create your own images or obtain them from legitimate sources that offer appropriate licensing for reuse.
  2. Obtain Permission: If you find an image on Google that you wish to use for commercial purposes, seek permission from the copyright holder. Contacting the creator or obtaining a license through stock image websites are common methods for securing the necessary rights.
  3. Explore Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a licensing system that allows creators to share their work with specific permissions. Some images on Google may have been licensed under Creative Commons, allowing for various types of reuse. However, it is crucial to review the specific terms of the Creative Commons license attached to the image.
  4. Fair Use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material without permission, typically for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, or research. However, fair use is a complex and often subjective concept, and it is best to seek legal advice to determine if your use falls within fair use guidelines.


When it comes to monetizing Google Images on social media, it is essential to respect copyright laws and use visual content responsibly. While Google Images offers filters to help identify images that may be available for reuse, it is crucial to verify the licensing information and obtain proper permissions when necessary. Creating your own images, obtaining permission, or using licensed content from reputable sources are the safest methods to avoid any legal issues related to copyright infringement. Remember, when in doubt, consult with legal professionals to ensure compliance with applicable copyright laws.

Video Transcript

Can Videos Published Online, Like on Social Media or YouTube, Be Monetized if They Use Images or Videos Owned by Others?

So, let’s imagine that you are creating a YouTube video or a TikTok or an Instagram, and you would like to use an image from somebody else. Or maybe you want to use a video from somebody else. Are you allowed to do that? The initial level of legal analysis says it is copyright infringement whenever you use something created by somebody else. But there is an exception called fair use. So that is a real high-level overview.

Let’s get into the details. When somebody creates a video, an image, a song, etc., they automatically own the copyright in their creation. I am going to call that their work. Whatever work they create, they own the copyright to that. But it is called a common law copyright because it is not registered yet. When somebody then goes and registers it with the U. S. Copyright Office, now they have a registered copyright instead of a common law copyright. But whether it is a common law copyright or registered copyright, it doesn’t change the fact that whoever creates a creative work owns that work. So that image, song, photo, video, whatever. So they own it. Now, whoever they give permission to use the work to, that is called a license. So if somebody has permission to use a photo, they have a license to use that photo. What we are talking about today is no permission has been granted. No license is available. So clearly, the use of somebody else’s copyrighted work is copyright infringement. Now that we know it is copyright infringement, we say, do any of the exceptions apply, or the defenses are actually what they are called, and one defense is fair use?

Some of the ways that fair use can be analyzed are as follows. First, are you transforming the work in a significant way and not essentially undermining the financial rights of the copyright owner? So let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s say, for example, that you do a YouTube video on one of your favorite books, and you hold up that book on the video and show the image on the front of the book, the cover of it; you are using an image and essentially making a video copy of it. Or you might go into Google image search and pull the cover of the book and put it up in the corner of your video before you post it on YouTube. You have clearly taken somebody else’s photo and put it on your video. Now you have actually infringed probably two copyrights there because the book cover is one copyrighted work, and then the photographer who took a photo of the cover has a copyright in the photo, and now you are using it. So you are infringing two rights. Is it copyright infringement? Yeah, it is because you copied something without permission, but does fair use apply? And the idea here is you are not undermining the financial rights of those copyright owners. Let’s talk about the focus on the book author right now because you are actually talking about the book, and you are saying, “Hey, here’s a great book. I love this book. You should go buy this book.” Maybe you were even given an Amazon link to buy the book. That is very different from making a copy of the book and starting to sell copies. There, the people consuming your copies are not going to pay any money to the copyright owner. So, there is a significant transformation in the copy of the book to the video, and you are not undermining the rights of that copyright owner. You also are only using a very small part of the book. It is not like you are reading the whole audiobook. If you did that, you probably are hurting the financial rights of the book owner.

So by doing a video talking about this book, that is a very clear case of fair use, but let’s say that scenario is now a little bit different. Instead of talking about how much you love the book, you say how awful the book is and how you recommend people, do not buy the book. Now, I think there is a better argument that you are affecting the financial rights or the financial benefit the book author is hoping to receive from the book. But there is another exception under fair use that applies, and that is the right to criticize, review, scrutinize, and talk about a particular creative work, something that is copyrighted.

I just watched a video by some other YouTubers. These were lawyers who were commenting on the Johnny Depp Trial, and so they were taking copyrighted film footage from the trial, which was produced by one of the kind of YouTube channels that cover trials and other criminal news events. And the YouTubers were rebroadcasting that video feed while commenting on that. And they were explaining that they believe it is a fair use case because they are significantly transforming the work they are providing commentary and additional value. They are not just copying the feed and reproducing the feed, but as you can see, there is no real bright line test like, “Oh, this is fair use, and this isn’t.” It is gray, and it is intentionally gray because, as experts have looked at changing this law and making it more clear, the concern was that it might stifle free speech. And so, there is a great desire in the United States to preserve free speech. And so, in an effort to prevent banning certain sorts of speech, experts have erred on the side of having a spectrum or a gray line, which allows for speech and allows judges later to decide, did somebody go too far in infringement?

So that is a long way of explaining that content creators are infringing somebody else’s copyright if they use any creative work without permission, but fair use thing comes into play. I might need to do a longer video on fair use, but this at least gives you a little preview.

How Does YouTube Monetization Relate to Copyright Infringement?

There is a second part of this question, which is monetization. I will rephrase the question here. How does YouTube monetization relate to copyright infringement? It is not the same. Copyright infringement is a legal analysis. Monetization is YouTube’s policy and contract with creators and with copyright owners. And basically, YouTube has said they want to set up a system where if people want to infringe somebody else’s trademark or their copyright, they should not be compensated for that. The compensation should go to the copyright owner. So let’s say, for example, that I put out on YouTube, a video of a musical artist, and I also add some commentary to that. Under copyright law, that may be covered by fair use. I might essentially have the fair use defense and would win in a copyright infringement case.

But under YouTube’s monetization policy, YouTube has said once there is a claim made to that music, the money from that video will go to the music owner, not the person who posted the video with some commentary. Is it a perfect system? No. Perhaps a perfect system would be one where both parties are compensated for the amount of value they contributed to the video posted on YouTube. In other words, the music artists would get compensated, and the YouTube creator would get some portion, but you have the option of doing that. In other words, you can go get a license to use the music, and then actually, you will get all of the proceeds or monetization from that video. So you have every right to go get a license as a creator from the owner of whatever creative work you want to use. And then you get all the money. So basically, YouTube’s policy has said if you are not going to go the correct route and get permission or a license to use somebody else’s creative work, that is fine, but you run the risk of being demonetized. In other words, you won’t get the money from that video. The owner of the copyrighted work you used would get the money instead.


All right. Well, thank you for joining me here today. If you would like more information on me, you can find it at aaronhall.com. If you would like to follow us on other platforms, just search for Aaron Hall, Attorney, on the various other social media platforms. And if you have other questions, I would be happy to see about answering them in future YouTube live videos. Feel free to add them in the comments below. It was great talking with you today. I hope this was helpful, and let’s stay in touch. You can sign up at aaronhall.com/free if you would like to receive those exclusive training videos for people who are trying to avoid common problems in small businesses. Have a great day.