Stock Photo License:
What Are Your Legal Responsibilities?

Understanding Stock photo license agreements will help you minimize any legal risk or liability in using this type of material in your video productions!

What Are Stock Photo License Agreements?

Let's start with what stock photo license agreements are. ..A license means to grant permission... it is a permit from an authority to own use or do a particular thing.

Normally you will be granted some sort of document or documentation to prove that you have authorization. Licenses set conditions and limitations for use of a particular product or entity.

What Is a Licensee and Licensor?

When you're buying stock photos you are the licensee. The licensee is the purchaser, the one who is granted the authority or authorization to use, process or do something with a particular property.

In becoming a licensee you then become legally responsible after making the purchase. So, of course, if anything goes wrong, such as copyright violations etc., it's you that will be responsible.

Also, if someone is purchasing this for you... you are still responsible as you are the receiver of this authority or authorization for use.

The licensor is the individual, company or agent of the company that is selling you the image and whatever particular rights there are to it. They control the material and how it is used.

Licensed material for the videographer, filmmaker or graphic artist is typically stock photos, video or film footage, audio clips, other types of still images or graphics.

What Rights Do You Have after Purchasing the License for Stock Photos?

In a stock photo license agreement the images are normally nonexclusive, nontransferable and non-sub licensable but... you will have perpetual rights to the use of them.

Let's break these down...

  • Nonexclusive... meaning the right to these images can be, and often are, sold not only to you but to others for use.
  • Nontransferable... meaning you can't give or sell the rights to the material to somebody else. You bought the license so the rights are yours only and you don't have the power to transfer them.
  • Non-sub licensable... you can't turn around and give someone legal access to the material you are using because… You don't own the copyright to it.

You normally do have perpetual use of the material.

"Perpetual" meaning never ending or changing.  So... A very very long time!  You can use the material as many times as you want for as long as you want... just so long as you don't violate the purposes laid out in your agreement.

Of course... Part of a stock photo license agreement is that not only you... But any subcontractors, production crew members, coworkers etc. that you may use must abide by the provisions of the agreement also.

Who Has Access to the Stock Photo Material?

If you use subcontractors, have employees etc. that work on your projects...

One little interesting thing you might look for in the stock photo license agreement is that...

If you store the material in a digital library, network, or some other digital storage area so that it can be viewed by your employees, partners, production crew or clients there usually can be only a limited amount of users that can have access to it.

For Getty images for instance, there can be no more than 10 users. If there are then you must purchase additional licenses.

These are seat licenses  just like you would purchase for software... and of course... they are based on the number of users that can use that material.

Just a little thing to look out for if a lot of people will be handling or viewing the material.

Protecting the Material… Your Responsibilities…

When you buy stock photos you will be the authorized user of the material as set forth in the stock photo license agreement.

Part of the agreement normally is that you can't put the material in a position where it can be downloaded, extracted, redistributed or accessed as a standalone file.

The material is copyrighted and protected by the copyright laws. You have the use of it but... you don't own it. 

As the licensee you will be responsible to make sure that the material is not in a position to be stolen or pirated.

Things You Can and Can't Do with the Material...

You can't say that you are the original creator of the material even if you changed it a bit.

You definitely can't use it as a logo, corporate ID, trademark or service mark without obtaining written consent from the site that's licensing it to you. To use it as a logo for example, you'd have to have exclusive use of the material. Meaning... nobody else is buying licenses for its use and using it.

It would be a bummer if you used it in a logo that really branded you and/or your company well… And then somebody comes along and takes your logo (or a slight variation of it) and starts diverting income to their business.

Since you don't own the rights to it there wouldn't be a thing you could do… Now wouldn't that frustrate the heck out of you (as well as lose you income)!

If the image or video clip that you're buying uses a model, some location or property that can easily be identified... you can't use the material in a way that invites criticism...

As most stock photo licensing agreements put it... "used in a way that is unflattering or unduly controversial to a reasonable person". If you do use it... And it's on the borderline...

You have to include a statement that indicates it's being used for illustrative purposes only or that the person depicted in the licensed material is a model.

Of course... As you can probably guess... it's unlawful to use the licensed material in pornography or in a pornographic way.  And that's whether you use it directly or in a juxtaposition with other material or subject matter.

Another interesting note is that if you're the one buying video clips, images or sound files or graphics for another (who will be the licensee)... Since you made the purchase... you may be held responsible if they're not complying with the terms of the agreement when using the material.

So just be aware! Read the stock photo license agreement carefully... even if you're in a dispute with the person you bought it for and are in disagreement with the way they're using the material... If you originally bought it... the company you purchased it from may contend that it is you that have agreed to be responsible for it!

So... Just a word to the wise... Don't invite legal trouble because you or someone you purchased the material for is not following the licensing agreement.

If you want to go a little more in depth on this and other questions about licensing agreements... this site... Stock Photo Rights is a good place to start.

Using Stock Photo Material on Websites and Social Media…

Most licensing agreements include a clause that if you're going to use the material on your website you must post terms and condition's that prohibit downloading, republication, re-transmission, reproduction or other use of the licensed material as a standalone file.

You want to try to ensure that the material that is licensed to you is not in some way pirated or stolen by another.

If you upload material that is under a stock photo license agreement to social media or a third-party website your rights to the material can be revoked if the third-party exploits the rights to the material.

You bought the original license and control the material and they didn't... so it's hard to to hold them legally accountable for the use of the material. But you can be held accountable! 

If you're using a site like Getty images... They can request that you inform the third-party site to take that material down.

Stock Photo License Agreements… Material Designated for "Editorial Uses Only "…

Normally any material that you buy can be used for "Editorial" use.

But… There is some material that is specifically designated as "Editorial Use Only".

This is material that may not be used for any commercial, promotional, endorsement, advertising or merchandising.  By definition "Available for Editorial Uses" or "Editorial Use Only" means that it's only used when relating to events that are newsworthy or of general interest.

This type of material can usually be used for illustrative purposes in a noncommercial setting per the licensing agreement.

What you can't do however is use these images to create products, ads or advertisements etc. 

You couldn't for example… take the image of some well-known celebrity and Photoshop your company's logo on their shirt pocket thus giving the impression that they endorse your product.

That… Of course… Would be a no-no as the celebrity is not given you a formal release to use their image! So… Always use "editorial use only" material per the licensing agreement and you won't run into any trouble!

Can You Relicense the Stock Photo Material?

Well... The simple answer is no.

You don't have any ownership rights or copyright rights on the material and none is passed to you through the issuance of the licensing agreement. 

Unless it is expressly stated in the agreement you have no right to license any of the material yourself.

This is true for most licensing agreements such as the most common ones like Royalty-Free or Rights Managed etc. You don't own it... You just negotiated the right to use it in a certain way as set forth in the agreement.

As you can see from this brief rundown... there are some things to know about how stock photo license agreements are structured and how you can use the material... but... if you understand the basics you'll be okay and there should be no risk or liability in using any of the stock photos that you buy!

Have fun...!  Dan (Editor)

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