To Use or Not to Use: Know Your Image Usage Rights

 In iStock Solutions

1038232182, swissmediavision

So you just found the perfect image for your project. The only problem? You have no idea whether you have permission to use it on social media or your website. Understanding usage rights can be tricky (especially when you’re pressed for time), but it’s crucial in making sure your creative project or advertising campaign goes off without a hitch.

In this article we’ll break down what you need to know about usage rights and help you figure out which options are the best for your creative needs.

What are usage rights, anyway?

Let’s take a step back. Copyright laws in most countries protect original creations, including photographs. In most instances, you can’t copy, use, or sell a copyright-protected image without permission from the person who owns it. So even though you would love to use that cool photo you found on the web from a rock concert, you shouldn’t use it unless you obtain a license for the image and agree to use it in your project in a certain way. When you license a stock photo, or subscribe to a site for stock imagery access, you can buy that permission as outlined in your agreement. These are your usage rights.

In the age of social media where we might see hundreds of images a day, copyright can be especially confusing. Some of the most common misconceptions include thinking that if you’re not profiting off of an image, you don’t need permission to use it; or, if you remove the image after receiving a notice, you won’t owe any fees for infringement. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and no one wants a great campaign to be stopped short because you didn’t take the time to make sure you have the right permissions.

How about free image sites? While these may occasionally fit the needs of your projects, they typically don’t provide the same legal protection you get when purchasing a license. Additionally, the usage rights might not be clear, leaving you on the hook—legally and financially—if your use isn’t covered.

How do you figure out the type of usage rights you need?

The first thing you should do is determine whether or not your assets will fall into the editorial or commercial use buckets—unless you’re writing news articles, your content usage will more than likely fall into the latter. A commercial use generally means anything being used to sell a product (think: marketing campaigns, promotions, sponsored blog posts, or merchandise). If that’s the case, models in the photo will need to have signed releases permitting such commercial use, and things like logos or background art will need to be removed. When you license royalty-free content from iStock, you can rest easy knowing that all of this has already been taken care of for you.

Once you figure out how you’ll use the licensed assets, it’s time to choose a license that makes sense for your project. Every file on iStock comes with a standard license, as well as the option to purchase an extended license, which grants additional rights in exchange for an additional license fees.


For more information about usage rights, see the iStock Standard Content License Agreement or check out extended licensing options.

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