Imagine this.
An email with the title ‘Image licence Enquiry for Reuters News & Media Inc’ in your inbox

I’m now Googling  – and reading horror stories.

I contact Reuters to ask them if – and can it be true, are these people really acting on their behalf?

Yes, and don’t talk to us, talk to them.

So, I take the image and post down from my website, fully deleting it and diligently check all my old social media posts just in case, and I find a replacement image on Alamy* with treated photos in an image strip, including the one I used, and buy it.

So do I have a licence for this image – it’s THE most ubiquitous image of Donald Trump you can think of – bit like the one of me.

Yes! I have a Creative Commons Licence (CCL) (phew!).

… but it’s no good, it doesn’t cite the original image!

So, panicking – I do a reverse image check.

Reuters doesn’t come back in the search – in the first 50 results 20 sites offering a download with a CCL do, plus 30 using it, or selling something made using it, or ‘Meme’ makers, X/Twitter accounts, and Apps…

There’s one news site with an article from 2017 at #44 by the Guardian – and no copyright reference. I gave up at 50, that seemed a fair check.

I trawl through image libraries, and all of Donald Trump Wikimedia Commons images and official presidential images, determined that it must be somewhere. But it’s nowhere.

I go on legal message boards – consensus was it’s all a bit grey, Reuters have had one of their images altered (made into a cut-out) and it’s gone viral and made available with a (useless) CCL, but it’s also in their library so has two audiences. But I am too chicken to take the advice of ‘don’t pay, they’re unlikely to take you to actual court’, and if you start having to get legal advice, a point of principle becomes less attractive.

Because in my research I’d read stories of huge claims, from images found in old and archived attachments, made by long-gone staff. Of claims sent for Instagram posts. Even logo use (yes, you read that correctly). Of people ignoring the claims letters. I paid.

So why, when Reuters must know it’s so popular and was being poached by free image sites and so then exponentially used illegally by normal folk (who thought they were covered by a CCL), why not shut down the poaching sites, or do a ‘good thing’ and make their own cut-out version for normal photo libraries, or at least a cut-out version that would appear in a reverse image check. I guess it’s theirs, so why should they and anyway there’s lost revenue to be snatched back in claims even if that creates untold misery.

In its original form you can find the image in old news articles, but not the cut-out version I used, and it’s so ubiquitous of Trump, I hate to think how many people are using it.


You can’t trust a Creative Commons Licence unless the original image is fully cited and released. News photo libraries in particular charge high fees so a fine could be exponentially worse as the infringement company that found you will want a cut too.

So, do yourself a favour and delete anything that you can’t find the source for. Check any CCL images you have. I even deleted a movie poster from 1950 in an article and a WWII image – just in case the licence was dodgy! Everything else I have is drawn, or I’ve bought, or I’ve photographed – bar one photo by Daniel K Cheung on Unsplash.


*On the Alamy image, I’ve decided not to use it. It looks like a treated photo and, as I’ve discovered on this journey, the bots won’t distinguish, and image libraries are not responsible for Copyright on images supplied to them (which they all are). I tried to find the artist unsuccessfully and have flagged it to Alamy and suggest they take it down for the sake of their customers, just in case.