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The Website Mistake that Cost Me $500

Don't make the same dumb mistake I did.

By Shamona PretzPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
Photo by WAYHOME Studio

oke up to a nasty surprise this month.

Back in October 2020, I did my Last Minute Halloween Costume Ideas post. In my haste to find images, I included an image of Mike Pence with a fly on his head from the Vice Presidential debate.

Fast forward to September 2021, and I received this email in my inbox:

Screenshot of email I received

Basically, I was informed that I was using the photo illegally and had to take the image down immediately.

But that wasn’t all: I was ordered to pay for the time I used the photo on my website. To the tune of $710.

Initially, I thought this was a scam. But a quick Google search revealed that these guys were absolutely legit and that they meant business.

So I was left with 2 options:

1) Pay the fine, or

2) Ignore the email

In the end, I chose the former. For one thing, if I ignored the email, they MAY have let it go. But they could have also pursued legal action, and I could potentially be slapped with an even larger fine.

And also…I knew I was in the wrong.

I took the risk that many website owners foolishly take, thinking that they would never be dinged. That they would never be caught.

Well, I wasn’t so lucky and now it’s time to pay the piper. It was a dumb mistake and I sincerely regret it.

I wound up negotiating down the fine, but in the end I still had to pay $500.

Five hundred big ones, all for an inconsequential photo that I probably didn’t need on my site to begin with.

Let this be a lesson to all website owners: NEVER EVER take a photo that you just find on Google Images. It may end up biting you in the butt down the line.

Despite it all, I consider myself fortunate. I’ve managed since 2018, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I’ve been penalized for my image usage. That’s because I primarily take my images from free-to-use sites.

Going forward, I will rely on these sites exclusively, as I refuse to pay such a large amount for an ultimately aesthetic decision.

Here are some examples of places you can source images guilt-free, so you can avoid the same mistake that I made:


One of the most popular sites for free-to-use images, Unsplash has been integrated into the design of writing platforms like Medium and Vocal Media, making it a cinch to source quality images for your posts. That said, because of its popularity, a lot of images from Unsplash have been overused.


Another site for free-to-use images, what sets Pexels apart from its peer Unsplash is its library of free video clips as well as stock photos.


A site very similar to Pexels, Pixabay also has its fair share of free-to-use stock photos and videos. I reach for Pixabay less often the aforementioned sites, as the quality of images tends to not be as good as on Unsplash and Pexels.

Also, you may accidentally click a photo from Adobe or iStock that actually costs money to use, so be careful.


A site that I’ve gravitated toward recently is Freepik. As with the other three sites, it houses a vast library of photos that are free-to-use. Like Pixabay, it also contains links to images to paid photo sites so you need to be vigilant while searching.

What I like about Freepik vs. the other sites is its search filters. Aside from searching for images based on orientation (portrait vs. landscape vs square) and predominant colour, you can also refine your search so that only new images appear first. This is beneficial as it helps to avoid picking overused images.

I also love Freepik for its images of people which are attractive and eye-catching as cover images to my posts.


I don’t always gravitate to Canva, but it’s also a free resource for both free and paid images. I’ve seen some overlap of images on Canva and some of the other image sites, but if you intend to modify the images, Canva is a good one-stop shop to get everything done with your image before adding it to your site.

Regarding paid sites for images...


I don’t tend to pay for images, but when I was looking for affordable media to use for my entry into the My RØDE Cast contest, I stumbled upon Pond5.

The site has a small library of free-to-use images, but what sets them apart from the other sites is its audio library. Here is the song I used for my entry:

If you’d like to try Pond5’s service, you can use my referral link and get 20% off your first order!

Some other things to consider...

Be Smart with Google Images

It bears repeating, but please please PLEASE do not pull your images blindly from the Internet.

If you insist on doing a search on Google, at the very least, add the filter to only look at images that include a Creative Commons license.

But even that takes some level of risk into your hands. Suppose someone took a licensed image and slapped a Creative Commons license on it? You don’t want to have to find out the hard way. Exercise extreme caution.

When in Doubt, Use is a neat little site that I wish I knew about sooner. If you find an image and are not certain if it’s free to use, simply drag and drop it into TinEye and it will identify all the sites on the Internet where it can be found.

You can then filter the results based on website/collection. If the image is found on a site identified as “Stock”, then be careful; it usually means that the image is a stock photo that requires payment for appropriate use.

I got quite the eye-opener when I dropped some popular meme images into tineye — turns out a lot of them use stock photos from Getty Images, Adobe, and other paid sites.

Always Credit the Author

When you use an image from free sites, you should still give credit to its creator.

When provided, attribute the appropriate link and licensing to any images on your site. Most sites make this easy for you, as a popup with a link usually appears upon download of any image.

Sylvie is a dual American/Canadian citizen living in Toronto, Canada. She has written for numerous sites, including Screen Rant, The Spool and Midnight & Indigo. Sylvie is currently writing her first YA novel; follow her writing journey at and @sylvsoulwriter on Twitter.

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About the Creator

Shamona Pretz

I am a fiction writer, specializing in YA and fantasy.

Visit my website at

Donate so I can live out my best 'Coffee Talk' dreams post-pandemic at

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  • Angelina F. Thomas3 months ago

    Great work

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