Image licenses: An overview of licensing rights of popular Image databases – March 2016

Image copyrights are a difficult subject. We recently took a brief look at it in this blog. Let’s now take a closer look, using several specific examples. We’ll concentrate on standard licenses, because they usually suffice for presentation purposes. Current March 2016

Image licenses by Fotolia

Here the standard license provides you with quite extensive rights. Naturally, the images are not exclusive. You can, however, use them for all types of illustration purposes across all types of media – print and electronic – without any restrictions regarding time or space. Obviously, you may not sell nor sub-license them. You may pass the images on to employees and also to your contractors, if you point out the license conditions. You may, if you are e.g. an agency, also use them for one of your clients. But note ‒ only for the one client. If you’d like to use them for a second client, you’ll have to purchase a new license. And another thing ‒ you solely are responsible and liable for further use of the image by your clients. It is therefore advisable for your client to purchase the image themselves.
Apart from that, you may not use the acquired images for activities considered morally dubious by Fotolia. You may not use them to e.g. advertise erotica or tobacco products, nor political candidates or parties. Furthermore, if one of your media or communication channels, e.g. print or DVD but also TV, is expected to generate a volume of more than 500,000 copies or more than 500,000 viewers, then you’ll have to purchase an extended license. This restriction does not apply to images shown only on a website or on a social media site. But beware: if posted on a website, you are responsible for ensuring the photo cannot be downloaded or otherwise copied and distributed. Moreover, in regard to social media, you also have to ensure the photo selected by you is marked “social media enabled”.

Image licenses by iStock

iStock, like thinkstock and belongs to Getty Images. At iStock, the difference between a standard license and an extended license is defined somewhat more strictly. Yes, here you also have the option of unlimited use in terms of time and space for almost all types of media. And, here too, you’re not allowed to sell or sublicense the images, nor promote anything morally objectionable with them. If you use the images in the context of a sensitive or controversial topic, you’re responsible for letting your readers or viewers know that any people in the photo are models and not associated with the topic.

iStock clearly distinguishes between electronic templates and print-only. For electronic templates, a volume of between 2,000 or 10,000 may be the limit permitted under standard licenses, depending on which product it is and whether you want to use it in sales, e.g. on promotional mugs or T-shirts. Usually the limit for print is also at around 500,000 units. If you’re planning to publish or promote on YouTube, you’ll need to think about estimating the number of viewers (‘views’) it is likely to attract.

If you’re acting on behalf of a customer, then the customer as well as their sub-contracting entities may use the image as far as is necessary to fulfil the order. You also have to bind that customer to the license terms. Beware ‒ the license is only valid for a single user. If you’d like multiple users of the image, there is the possibility of extending the license or even a team-share subscription.

One other important point: if you use the photo for editorial purposes (blog, book, newspaper or magazine articles) or also for video and audio material, you’ll have to declare the original owner. Some photos are marked “for editorial purposes only” ‒ in which case you need to either purchase an extended license or not use the image for normal advertising or commercial purposes.

Image licenses by Photocase

This is an interesting alternative to the major suppliers Fotolia and iStock. Photocase calls its standard agreement for download and use of images a ‘basic license’. In principle, this governs the same applications as Fotolia or iStock, but with the difference that Photocase sets its limit at 250,000 units when the image is disseminated by print media. Beware ‒ for all images by Photocase, you must always credit Photocase as the source as well as the photographer. If published in electronic form, it has to even have a link to Photocase. If you don’t want to worry about any of that, you simply purchase an extended license. You may need to anyway, because the basic license does not cover use of the images for or on products you wish to sell. Conditions for which you have to obtain a special-use permit are defined in somewhat greater detail by Photocase than by other providers. Special permission is required for use in conjunction with drugs, diseases, content of a sexual, erotic, political or religious nature, as well as tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals and psychopharmaceuticals, nutritional/dietary supplements or contraceptive products. You need to therefore look closely before you decide.

What can be said in general about the use of stock photos?

The proper use of photos is worth a separate blog post in and of itself. However, this much at this point: Be careful in your selection of stock photos to purchase. As a rule, they tend to come across as artificial, many themes are well known and worn out – just think of The Handshake used for just about everything, all the various Top of the Mountain images, or all those smiling faces of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The more authentic your photos are, the greater the effect they’ll have. Even if it sometimes takes a little more time and effort. It increases your credibility.

As always, this blog post serves information and awareness purposes only. In this particular case, we would like to point out specifically that this post in no way represents legal advice since, as you will have noticed, the subject of image copyrights can be very complex. Each case needs to be looked at on its own merits.


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