Why do most people download images? And what’s their awareness of copyright restrictions? We take a closer look at people’s behaviors and attitudes toward downloading images.

It’s hard to imagine the internet without images – it would certainly be a duller place. 

But it’s easy to forget that all images were created by someone, and that certain restrictions will typically apply to their usage.

In an age where images are easily downloaded, shared on social media, and posted on websites without any accreditation, these factors are easily overlooked. Indeed, many people who download images may simply be unaware that such works are likely to be protected by copyright.

But it’s also clear that awareness of these factors isn’t enough to prevent unauthorized usage. 

Many of us, for example, will have encountered images shared on social media or elsewhere with their stock library watermarks still in place. And while we may feel comfortable posting a well-known image that’s already in the public domain on social media or elsewhere, when it comes to sharing work from a photographer we personally know, we’re unlikely to share it quite as freely without their permission – particularly if it bears a watermark.

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Research carried out by us last year showed there to be a broad range of reasons as to why people download images online, and varying levels of awareness as to what’s permitted when these images are used personally and publicly.

Among other things, we found that:

• search engines account for the majority of image searches and downloads
• almost one in three people will attempt to remove a watermark from an image
one in two people download images more than once a week, while roughly one in five do so every day

What are the main reasons people download images?

Our research showed the most common reasons given for downloading images relate to personal rather than professional use.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most popular reason was to use such images as wallpaper on computers. 60% of respondents claimed to download images for this purpose, while 42% claimed to do so so they could use it in a similar way on their smartphones.

These were followed in popularity by a number of reasons that concerned sharing images on social platforms. 34% of people surveyed stated that they downloaded images to share with friends, with 24% downloading images to use as backgrounds on their social media sites, and 20% using these as profile pictures, both here and on online forums.

For what purpose(s) do you download images?