I only noticed this issue because I recently deleted 207 stories from Medium and moved them to my own blog. After the stories were moved, I had to re-add the featured images manually to each article.

That meant going back to Unsplash and Pexels to download them again. I haven’t quite completed the process, but have already found over 10 images that are no longer available on those sites.

I expect to find a few more. As I still have almost 250 stories on Medium, there must be at least another 10 images that have disappeared. Probably even more than that.

It’s all a bit worrying. In fact, it’s more than a bit worrying.

What does Unsplash have to say on the matter?

This page answers whether it’s still ok to use an image if it’s been removed. And the answer is:

Once a photo has been released under The Unsplash License and Unsplash Terms and Conditions it remains free to use, even if removed. However, there could be situations where the photo has been removed because the poster did not have sufficient rights to share the images. Please keep in mind our photos are provided on an “as is” basis, so any liability for continued use of a removed photo remains with you. (emphasis is mine)

It’s crystal clear from the above statement that any liability for continued use of such images remains with us, not with Unsplash and not with Medium. The risk is all ours.

So, how do we know if we’re still covered by the Unsplash License or not?

The simple answer is that we don’t know. There is no way of knowing why it was removed. That makes the Unsplash license pretty meaningless.

If the person that originally uploaded the images didn’t have sufficient rights to use them, that probably means we’re using a copyrighted image that belongs to someone else.

And what if that person finds that we used their image? We could be up shit creak without a paddle. In other words, we could be facing a very big fine.

Think it can’t happen? Then have a read of these articles:

I tried to find out if the same applies to images on the Pexels website but couldn’t find any relevant info. I have to assume that the situation is similar to Unsplash.

In other words, we could unknowingly be infringing on someone’s copyright.

Be very careful, folks.

From now on I’ll be using mostly my own images. It’s much safer than using images where we can never be 100% sure we have the right to use them or not.