I found a photo on the internet and want to use it in my free Android app.

The problem is that I can't find the source, so I don't know if this photo is legally available for such use or not.

What is a sensible course of action when a designer wants to use a photo / graphic, but is unable to identify its source?

  • 1
    No. There's no exemption for that in copyright law. Sensible course of action is to find a different photo showing the same subject, where you do know the source and can license the image properly. Try a stock photography library.
    – A E
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 21:45
  • 2
    @AE, there is an exemption (anonymous works typically have a shorter copyright term than works with a known author), but demonstrating that a work is anonymous is often difficult, and the copyright duration really only makes it useful for works that are at least a century old.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 6:28
  • 1
    @Mark, details depend on the country of course, but OP not knowing the author isn't the same thing as the author having chosen to publish it anonymously (IIUC).
    – A E
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 12:08
  • @AE is copyright law defers from country to another even through the internet ? Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:29
  • 1
    @MuhammedRefaat yes, although many (but not all) countries share a common framework: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… So your best option is to simply pay a small amount to license a suitable image - google 'royalty-free stock photography' for a range of photo libraries.
    – A E
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 20:51

5 Answers 5


Try using Google's search by image to find the original.

If you are unable to find it or the copyright about using it, you should not use it in your app to be safe.

  • I tried that and got like million result and when navigating to any of it, it doesn't lead me to any thing Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 16:22
  • @user568458 in fact it was a set of images not a single one, and I tried to find another similar ones and really tired until reaching a commercially available similar images Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 11:52
  • 1
    @MuhammedRefaat Whoever owns it knows who owns it. Many copyright owners' legal departments trawl through results like this, sending invoices and legal threats to everyone using their image without a license. It's easy money since legally, they're 100% in the right, and you're not in a position to argue if they quote a very high price. (of course, many don't bother - it's up to you if it's worth the risk) Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 18:00

I'd use the tool https://www.tineye.com/ to do a reverse image search. This might point you to a stock photography site or other site that probably would have more details surrounding the license.

  • Is there any advantage of using this over the reverse image search that's part of Google Images?
    – Keavon
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 0:45
  • I've actually never used the reverse image search that Google offers. So I wouldn't know if there would be an advantage or not.
    – cholson
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 5:37
  • 1
    @Keavon, my experience is that TinEye has a better matching algorithm, while Google has a larger image database.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 6:25
  • 1
    Cool. Nice to know there's an alternative to Google's and I may find it useful one day!
    – Keavon
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 6:33
  • 1
    An important advantage of TinEye for this is that you can sort by oldest and sort by largest, either/both of which can help find the original that everyone else copied from. Doesn't always work, but sometimes does. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 11:34

No, it is not safe.

Just because you aren't able to find and identify the copyright owner of the image doesn't mean that the copyright owner won't find your android app and identify you.


If you can not find the source you either need to be prepared for possible legal issues or find a different photo to use.


As others as said no its not, although it might be hard finding the original image there is a small chance that the owner finds your app. Although this might be unlikely it will cause much more trouble when you publish your app.

I think although it might not be easier now it would be better if you find or make another image, a few hours now is better than legal action later.

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