I’m not going to go into what you should or shouldn’t do with using images from the web on products although will offer a short story. Years back I owned a somewhat successful info-based website (not related to t-shirts) that received about 40,000 page views daily. I have long since sold the property to a media company that runs about 100+ sites.
The web property I speak of was launched in the mid 90’s and it was quite easy to get noticed and build traffic quickly then. Today, if building a similar site, it would be lost within an ocean of websites all bidding for the same eyeballs. Things have changed since the early days, mostly for the worse for those looking to easily capitalize on cyberspace fortunes.
I was always careful with images and only used those that we generated, received permission for, taken from a royalty free source and some that we actually paid for. I had many freelance contributors to the site, all working either for free or for a percentage of ad revenue and being a small operation I obviously couldn’t check everything out although did my best.
Well, one day a certified letter shows up from Getty Images (they seem to own just about everything btw) looking for $20,000 for the unauthorized use of “four” of their images on our site.
These were simply generic pictures, nothing specific that would leave any doubt in my mind regarding their fair use. Additionally, we weren’t using them on products for resale although that is how Getty always sees the situation. Eventually I settled for $2,000 along with $900 in legal fees. Honestly, if I wasn’t looking to sell the property, I probably would have told Getty to pound salt! LOL!
Moral to the story….if there’s any doubt, don’t use it. Especially on a tangible item for resale such as a t-shirt.