For a new blogger or even a small business owner, understanding licenses and copyright law when it comes to photography is VERY important. Making one simple mistake and using a photographers photo without permission could actually shut your website down, or even worse – you could be sued.
There are NO EXCUSES for being a lazy bum and not doing your due diligence.
Before I begin, I need to throw this out there. I’m not a lawyer and I am only speaking from my experience. You may want to consult with a copyright lawyer if you have any questions. The information in this post is based of my opinion and experience. I am not responsible for any action you take in regards to the information and opinions expressed below.
Why should I give a sh*t?
A photographers work is protected under copyright law the moment they take the photograph. Just because a photo doesn’t have a particular license attributed to it doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. Even a free stock photo that can be used commercially may still have limitations. You should always take a look at the terms of service and conditions of any site that you download a photo from whether you pay for the photo or not. A license is only a small portion of things you need to keep in mind before using a stock photo. Regardless of the type of license, the terms and conditions of the license are not always the same….
Not only is it important to pay attention to all the legal mumbo jumbo and terms and conditions, but it’s also just not right to steal a photo from someone else. How would you like it if you spent hours and hours editing your photos to have some half-ass lazy bum swoop in and use them? Taking good photos is a lot of work and photography may actually be a main source of income for someone.
When it comes to having an online business or blog, you do not want to f*ck with copyright.
Types of Stock Photography / Photo Licensing:
Photographers will actually license their photos under these commonly known types of licenses. ( please note that we are only discussing the most commonly used . As much as we would love to go into detail about every little thing, this blog post is already long AF)
PAID STOCK PHOTOS:
Paid stock photos are usually rights managed or royalty free.
- Rights Managed: Limited by geographic region and a specified period of time, etc. So there’s less of a chance that someone else would use this. One time charge for use of photo but usually only applies to one project so if you need to use on another project you might have to purchase another license / re-license the photo and include detailed description of your intended use. Better to use this type to reduce brand confusion.
- Ex: Getty Images
- Royalty Free: Usually a one time charge for use of a photo that allows multiple uses. The downside is that it is non-exclusive which means there may be others using the same photo as you.
- Ex: Shutterstock
- Some stock photo websites have extended / enhanced licenses in addition to royalty free depending on what your project is.
“FREE” STOCK PHOTOS:
Free stock photos usually fall under the categories of Public Domain and Creative Commons licenses.
Public Domain :
Public domain is not protected under copyright law, however always double check so see whether the photo is in fact a public domain photo and not just another d-bag uploading someone else’s copyrighted photos as public domain photos.
Creative Commons License (CC):
There’s a huge misconception that you can do whatever you want with a CC licensed photo. Uhmmmm Think again….
There are different types of CC Licenses and not all of them can be used commercially. Just because a photo is labeled CC doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. There are also conditions that must be met when using a CC licensed photos. You can’t just do whatever the hell you want with a CC licensed photo.
- CC Attribution – Give credit to the original photographer.
- CC Attribution Sharealike (CC BY-SA) – You can remix, alter the original, you can use commercially, you must license the remixed, altered original under the same terms. You must credit the photographer.
- CC Attribution No Derivatives (CC BY-ND) – No changes to the original photo, allows redistribution, commercial / non-commercial use as long as you credit the photographer
- CC Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC) – You can remix, alter the original but cannot use commercially. You must credit the photographer.
- CC Attribution Non Commercial Sharealike (CC BY-NC-SA) – You can remix, alter the original but cannot use commercially, you must license the remixed, altered original under the same terms. You must credit the photographer.
- CC Attribition Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) – You cannot use the photo commercially, you cannot change or alter the photos. You can however download the photo and share with other individuals as long as you credit the photographer.
- Some websites will have a CC No Attribution even though you technically should attribute . However, I always try to link back to the original source or contact the photographer no matter what the website says…
What about “Purchasing” a stock photo? I can do whatever I want once I purchase the photo, right?
Um… NO. You don’t own the photo even if you “purchased” it. Purchasing a stock photo is not actually purchasing a stock photo. You are granted permission to license or use the photo. And with licensing, there are still limitations on what you can / cant do with the photo. In most cases, the photographer will always retain the copyright.
Let’s go over a couple of examples of limitations that are placed on licensed stock photos to show you WHY you might need to read the fine print….(some of these can also apply to “free” stock photos)
- Some stock photography websites may require you to purchase an extended license if you plan on making more than a specific number of copies for marketing / advertising material, magazines, and newspapers. Ex: iStock requires you to purchase an extended or unlimited when you make over 500,000 copies of a photograph.
- A multi-seat license may be required if you plan on sharing the file with multiple users. For example, most licenses only allow one user, to transfer the photograph to another person would possibly infringe on copyright law which is why someone may need a multi-seat license.
- For physical products, you may have limits on how many items can be produced. For example, up to 100,000 postcards, posters, greeting cards, etc.
- The price of the stock photo may be determined with how many times you plan to use it.
- Even if you purchase a stock photo, you may not be able to use it for goods or services….so always understand what license you purchased.
- There may even be restrictions for use with digital products like website templates, e-cards, etc.
- For logos and trademarks, a majority of stock photography websites prohibit use in a logo or trademark.
- Attribution ( credit to the photographer) may be required under some circumstances even if you purchase an extended license. For example: if you’ve visited news websites and read an article chances are, you’ll probably find a couple of photos that have a credit to Getty Images with the photographers name, etc. You may also be required to credit when using a photo in a video.
- Some licenses limit the number of impressions a photo can have whether you use in Youtube video, on Facebook, your website, etc. Ex: 10,000 impressions per month.
- The legal guarantee varies for each type of license when purchased from a stock photography website. You must follow the terms and conditions in addition to the license requirements in order to recieve any amount of legal assistance that comes with your purchase.
- Stock photo websites may routinely audit or ask for samples of your content to make sure you are complying with their terms and using the license appropriately.
- Stock photo websites can discontinue licensing an item at any time.
- A license may only be good for one project. You might not be able to use the photo you purchased on various projects. To use in additional products you may need to re-license a photo.
ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT EVEN WHEN IT’S BORING AF. You still need to pay attention to the terms and conditions and the end user agreement / license even if you “purchase” the photo.
Examples of “Free” CCO / Commercial License Limitations From Free Stock Photo Websites
- Pexels has their own license for their stock photography. Like all licenses, there are limitations. In Pexels license, for example, they wont allow you to use stock photos on products, prints, unless you “add value” by editing or modifying the photo. I would still be careful about this if you were to create a product and use an altered/ edited image by Pexels. It’s always a good idea to contact the photographers directly before starting any project.
- Even if its creative commons licensed, it doesn’t always mean you could use that photo on a product. You may have to purchase an extended license. I suggest reading Pexels License and TOS as an example.
- Even though Unsplash has an “Unsplash License”, you still need to take a look at the terms and conditions. For example: even though the license says you can use the photos commercially / non-commercially, Unsplash mentions in their terms rather than the license that they require you to change/ modify the photos before you use on products. They also have a disclaimer on their site that basically states they cannot guarantee anything is free of errors….which means you gotta double check your photos…they are not responsible for any copyright issues.
In addition to reviewing the license, terms, conditions, and understanding the basics of copyright law, you may still need to ask for permission for the following:
- Any brand depicted in a photo may also be protected by trademark / copyright law and you may have to ask the prospective trademark owners for permission of use in addition to reviewing a license for the photo…… Ex: your Apple Macbook, or Apple Iphone.
- If anyone is recognizable in a photo, you may need to ask for permission even if you got the green light from the photographer.
- Any work of art or authorship – you may need to ask the artist / creator for permission. Ex: Taking a photo of someone’s artwork.
There are still limitations when it comes to using templates on websites like Canva:
- Canva owns the creative elements on all the templates, so these typically cannot be used in a trademark. In addition, “Logos cannot contain elements from Canva’s image library, either free or paid, as per section 4i of our license agreements.”
- You also have to look over Canva’s terms and conditions and purchase an additional license if needed. For example in the terms and conditions Canva states: “If you download any designs containing anyone else’s content, you have to license it under one of the licenses in this section.” meaning a One Time Use License Agreement , Multi-Use License Agreement , or Extended License Agreement. Crazy, right?
- Canva has many images that are creative commons no attribution required in their templates. However, in the terms and conditions they state “Without limiting the foregoing, Canva, its subsidiaries, and its licensors do not warrant that the content, including without limitation User Content and Stock Media, is accurate, reliable or correct”….
Be Careful WHERE You Download Stock Photos:
- There are some major d-bags out there who think it’s funny to upload a photo to a stock website that they don’t own the rights to. So even if you go to a website with Creative Commons licensed photos, they might not actually be CC licensed photos. Just remember that some of the free stock photo websites, non – stock photos are occasionally downloaded so you always have to double check.
- If you illegally download stock photos that someone has taken from a stock photo website,and redistributed elsewhere , you are pretty much screwed if you get caught using them. Why? Because you still don’t have a license to use them.
- Viruses- enough said. And usually the website you download a photo from has in their terms and conditions that they are not responsible for anything that happens to you and your computer, device, etc. for downloading a file.
The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act Of 1998):
- The DMCA is another thing you must keep in mind when you use stock photos. In a nutshell the DMCA provides a safe harbor for OSP’s and ISP’s ( Online Service Providers, Internet Service Providers) from liability of copyright infringement. Examples of OSP / ISP are Google, your hosting service for your website, eBay, Amazon, etc.
- The DMCA allows the copyright holder to issue a DMCA Take Down Notice to an OSP or ISP. The ISP will then notify the user of the infringement and have the user remove the infringed item.
- This is something you should comply with immediately if you are not the owner of the photo or contact a copyright/ intellectual property lawyer if needed.
- I also suggest adding a DMCA page on your blog / website. This page provides instructions on who, what, where to submit an infringement claim to.
- Click HERE for additional information on the DMCA from Copyright.Gov
Business Betch Tips
- It’s always best to exercise general copyright etiquitte and give credit where credit is due.
- Sometimes the copyright license can change! Always have proof of where you downloaded and what the license is. You can even keep a screenshot.
- Regardless of which license the photo is licensed under, you should STILL try to contact the photographer and confirm the license and what you plan on doing with the photo. You may be surprised to learn that you may need to purchase an extended license for your project.
- Even if you purchase a license to use a photo, there are still limitations to it’s use which is why you need to thoroughly understand the license limitations of the license and if your usage falls within those limitations.
- Always make sure to review the terms and conditions of the site you are downloading from as they may provide additional information on what you can/cant do with the photos.
- Contact a copyright lawyer if you are in doubt and really want to use an image.
- There are other instances where you may be allowed to use a copyrighted image under fair use, face-to-face instruction, or virtual instruction. However, I would still be cautious when it comes to using a photo that isn’t yours.
- For more information on copyright laws, I suggest looking at the government information on Copyright as well as DMCA:
Friggen mind blown…….
Any information on this page is as of 9/8/2018. Individual stock photography website licenses are subject to change at any time. It is your due diligence to check for any updates regarding licenses. It is your responsibility to contact a lawyer if you have any questions / or before making any decisions on using a stock photo. This blog post is purely intended to make you think twice before using stock photography. Business Betch LLC is not responsible for any action you take in regards to the information and opinions expressed in this post.