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How To Use Stock Images Without Getting Sued

Images are a crucial element for making your content shine. With the right visuals, your marketing material becomes more attractive, engaging and boasts a better visitor experience. However, curating new pictures for every advertising campaign you run can be a tedious task. And not many marketers have the budget or the time to do so either. 

In this case, the library of stock photographs becomes a life savior where they are able to access high-quality pictures in unlimited categories. These images are available at an affordable rate and can be modified as per the user’s requirement. 

That sounds like a good bargain, right!

Technically, it is! 

While stock photographs give users a great bargain, there are some instances where you can end up with a major fine (or even a lawsuit) for not using them legally. In the below guide, let’s take a look at some of these nuisances and ways you can use stock images without the risk of getting sued. 

Check The License

Each visual that you find on the stock photograph website is backed by a license. When you choose a picture from the site, it is important to study the license carefully to ensure you will use the picture correctly. 

Generally, stock photography sites have three types of licenses on their site:

Royalty-Free: This license lets you pay a one-time, flat fee for using the images in unlimited projects. 

Rights Managed: With this license, you are allowed to use the pictures under certain limitations. For example, you can customize your license according to the time frame of use, userbase, and even geographical location. 

Extended License: While the above two licenses are open to marketing materials and personal projects only – the extended license is strictly limited to products that will be resold. For example, suppose you are planning to use stock pictures on items like t-shirts, mugs, and calendars. In that case, you need extended license permission.

Occasionally, you may also come across an editorial license on stock photo sites. Editorial pictures are those that run alongside text in publications to educate readers. For example, a breaking news event. 

With this license, you are allowed to use the pictures in editorial pieces only and not in commercial mediums. 

You should also note that stock agencies modify the clause in the licenses as per their company’s preference. This is why you should read the license details thoroughly before making any collaboration.

Avoid Images From Google

Many people make the mistake of using pictures right from their Google search without checking with the sites that are hosting these images. 

Here is the deal: Google just serves as a database for all the images (and websites) that are indexed on the World Wide Web. By no means does it allow you (or anyone else) to use the pictures in the visual search of your commercial or personal project. 

Even if there is no watermark or copyright logo present on the image, you cannot use these pictures without seeking permission from the original owner. So be careful and stick to buying from reliable stock photo sites only when looking to fill in the visual gap of your content.

Verify The Releases

Another problem that many stock photo users run into is with the ‘releases.’ According to the law, we are not allowed to use pictures of an identifiable person, animal (pet), landmark, and private property in a commercial marketing campaign without consent. 

While most stock photo agencies do take consent from the models that appear in the photographs, a few neglect this element. Unfortunately, the consequence of using a picture without proper consent falls on the end user – you! So, ensure that the picture you select has the proper releases in place before you download it.

Be Wary Of Trademarks and Logos

Similar to models – trademarks and logos are also private property. This means that you cannot use them in your advertising campaign without proper permission from the owner. 

So, if you do find a picture of any popular logo on a stock photo site such as McDonald’s, Nike, or Apple, I suggest leaving it completely to avoid any legal trouble.

Special Restrictions of Stock Photo Sites

In most cases, stock photography sites give their users the freedom to use pictures in any way they want. You are even allowed to make minor adjustments to the images like cropping, add overlays and text, and even integrate your own pictures to make them unique. 

However, there are some restrictions that are followed by every stock photography company. According to them, a user is not allowed to:

  • Endorse the pictures as their own creation. 
  • Resell them to a third party. 
  • Use in pornographic content. 
  • Use where they can be defamatory towards a particular religion, political party, race, gender, disease, etc. 
  • Use them as an endorsement for a product. 
  • Use them in any negative notion. 

What About Attribution/Credits

Regardless of the type of license you use, giving attribution to the original owner is not a legal requirement unless specified in the license guidelines. However, it is an ethical practice, and giving credit to the owner will be appreciated by the photographer and the stock photo agency.

Follow The Best Practices And Stay Safe

When using stock photographs, make sure to follow the guidelines carefully to avoid any legal trouble. If you find anything dubious in the picture you select, ignore it and move towards other visual options. 

And if you ever do receive a takedown notice from the DMCA, comply immediately and take down the prohibited content. 

Follow the above practices and ensure your safety when using images from stock photography sites. Good luck!

Author avatar
Shriya Garg
Shriya is the co-founder and CEO at ContentNinja. She started her first blog when she was 12 years old, and coded her first website by the time she was 14. An avid reader and writer, she published her first book when she was 16 years old and has sold over 10,000 copies since. When she's not fielding client calls, Shriya can be found cleaning cat hair from her clothes.