We’ve all been there- tired and desperate. Think back to high school, you were probably pimply-faced and spent too much time talking to your friends the night before about how “Jenny is totally into Jeff,” and how totally messed up that is! “OMG, and this test is just totally unfair.” How are you supposed to know this stuff?

So you sit in class, ever closer to the smart kid with your test in front of you. Do you cheat? Do you try to look- just a little bit? Or do you remember that you’ll be in worse trouble if you get caught? Do you come to the conclusion like most young people, and determine you are invincible? You won’t get caught…

Well.. I was actually the smart kid.. most of the time… and I covered my paper. I didn’t feel right about cheating and if I knew I was going to fail, I would “Christmas Tree” the test. Christmas Tree-ing a test meant that you stood no possibility of passing. You filled in two dots instead of one, so there wasn’t the normal statistical chance of you getting that question right. You knew you would fail.

Most of the time though, particularly in college, I tried, I studied, I learned. It angered me to see people cheating. I earned my grade, my placement in a better internship, my 4.0 GPA, my career.

This is a topic I feel passionately about, and I see businesses acting like pimply-faced teenagers daily. They subject themselves to potential future lawsuits time and time again-instead of spending a dollar. Yup, a dollar.

They sit and decide it’s too expensive, too time consuming, too… whatever. So they cheat. They look up Google Images until they find what they want, and they steal the image I bought, and own rights to. They rob me, they rob the original artist, and they rob themselves.

There are several good sources for excellent and affordable stock images. iStockPhoto.com, ShutterStock.com, Stock.Adobe.com, my favorite: DollarPhoto.com. And for those of you who are whining, “But, I can’t pay a dollar for every single image.. This awesome article from Entrepreneur.com gives you FREE stock image sources! FREE! Seven sources for free stock images!

So there’s really no excuse.. because you can get great, high quality, un-pixelated, stolen pieces of art work for a buck.. Or even free.

But, for those of you who push the limits (You were the high schooler smoking in the bathroom..), I’d like to review some of the consequences of cheating by stealing images.

First off, you look like a cheap-ass. That should be enough said, but sadly, people think that other people won’t notice. It’s like buying that fancy purse, ladies or expensive watch, guys, out of a trunk a block of the Miracle Mile in Chicago. You know it’s a fake, but you think it looks good enough. But then the fake leather doesn’t tan on that purse, and the watch turns your wrist green. Ick.

Watches, purses, advertising are first impressers. They set you up feeling positive, and looking good. Why would you use a fake watch or stolen image to impress your future clients? If you don’t care, you should.

Second, pixelation. It’s a thing people, and it’s very real. You steal the image off Google Images- you have no idea what size it is. I’ve seen people trying to resize a thumbnail image to use for a marketing postcard. It looks like crap-It’s fuzzy, blurry, hurts your eyes, and on some of them, you can even start to see those little squares. Is that the first impression you want to leave people with? An image that is painful to look at?!

Third, watermarks. People use them to keep people like you from stealing their images. I’ve had clients opt to steal them anyways. So their marketing materials contain a watermark that says: “Hi, I’ve stolen this image because I’m a cheap ass who has poor business morals, and I don’t care if my marketing materials are so pixelated they hurt your eyes.” I will say the exception to this rule is social media. I believe in branding, and recreating the cute little quote image in your own brand, but I’m a busy entrepreneur and I get using other images from social media to social media. This is entirely different from your marketing materials, website, etc…

Lastly, but for those of you who aren’t bothered by the above, the legal implications. I leave this for last because I feel it should be the least important, but to each his own. According to this great article in the Social Media Examiner, you could be looking at “getting a cease and desist/bill/DMCA or being sued..” and if you get sued, on top of legal fees, you could get a $25,000 fine. If that’s not enough to get you to stop, I’m not sure what will.

In closing I want to address those of you who really didn’t know any better. My law teacher said it best when she said, “Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law!” However, there was a time when I didn’t know any better either- a time before I was a business owner, but a time nonetheless. If this is you, heed these words, this warning, and evolve past the barbaric practice of thieving your images.