With the entire Internet at our fingertips, finding great photos has never been easier. Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware that they need proper ownership, licensing and/or usage rights for all photos that they use, especially when used commercially.

1.  A person has the exclusive right to display an image that they created— even if they haven’t filed for any sort of protection for the image. If you are the photographer, you own exclusive rights to your photos and you have the right to use them in any way that you’d like. Likewise, if your company photographer or other employee takes a photo as part of his or her work for your company, your company will have the rights to use that photo. However, if you, or someone from your company, are not the photographer, then you will need to purchase and/or seek written permission to use that image.

2.  Not everyone is looking for cash payments in exchange for permission. If you would like to use someone else’s photo, you must simply seek their written permission. Some photographers will charge you for use of their work, or you may be able to strike a deal. Often, someone will give you permission to use their image in exchange for an interview, a strategic quote, a link back to their website, or a photo credit. It is important to have these terms in writing so that you can reference it later if a usage question should arise.

3.  There is an exception called the “fair use” doctrine. However, this is not as broad as it sounds. If you are using the image for a commercial use, or in some other way that is helping you make a profit – even indirectly – you cannot use it without permission.

You may fall under the fair use exception if your use of the image benefits the public. In order to decide whether it is a fair use, the courts will look at the purpose and nature of your use, along with its market effect. If you used it, but it was available for purchase, it likely won’t be considered a fair use. Typically, fair use exceptions arise when people are engaging in scholastic criticism or comment, teaching, research or news reporting.

4.  When purchasing stock photos, first decide how you will use the image. Fortunately, with stock photo resources like iStock, Getty Images, Dreamstime and more, it’s very simple to legally acquire licensing and usage rights for countless high-quality stock images. Most stock photo sites will offer both standard and extended licensing options. For example, some standard licenses allow you to use the image for up to 500,000 commercial impressions. Impressions are the number of times that the image is viewed, so commercial impressions may be advertisements, packaging, films, books, etc. Once you have reached the total number of impressions, you either need to renew the license or remove the image. For example, let’s say that you run a print ad using a stock photo with a standard license in a magazine that prints 100,000 copies for each run. With a standard license, you could use that photo 5 times in that magazine and then your license will be up and you will no longer have rights to use it.

In this case, if you know that you’ll be using the image for more than 500,000 impressions, then you will want to purchase the extended license. Extended licenses typically cost more than the standard, but most will allow you unlimited use of the photo. Then you know you’re covered, and you have peace of mind to use the photo however many times you’d like without having to keep track.

5.  Don’t ever assume that you can get away with using a stock image without the correct permissions. Companies like Getty Images (Getty is notorious for this) are very strict about their licensing and they are constantly on the lookout for illegal use of their images. The company will typically reach out with a cease and desist notification first, but failure to comply will likely result in a law suit.

Bottom line: You should never use someone else’s photographs or images without verifying that you have the legal right to do so. When in doubt, always seek permission.