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Photo Copyright: Avoid Nasty Surprises

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Avoid copyright troubles when using stock photos

Avoid copyright troubles when using stock photos

To use at least one photo in each of your blog posts, include an image as part of your e-mails, or add an image to a book cover, has pretty much become a requirement for getting attention today. Downloading a stock photo from any of the many stock photo websites out there like Adobestock, Shutterstock, Canstockphoto, or even one of those free image sites is pretty commonplace. Either you, your web-design guy, or your book-cover designer and similar is likely to do just that.

But — there is a problem.

If you and/or your designer aren’t careful, you’re running a pretty high risk of violating copyright in a number of situations.

You might expect that by downloading photos or illustrations from a stock photo website, especially when you pay for it and feel like you’re “buying” the image, you automatically have the right to use that photo or illustration for all the above purposes.

It really depends on the license though.

Read the License and Its Fine Print

Reading the fine print on the website you’re downloading your images from you might, for instance, find out that:

  • You aren’t permitted to use the image commercially
  • You can’t use it on printed products, or can’t use it on printed products above a certain threshold or number of print runs or similar
  • You’re not allowed to modify the image
  • You can’t use it in advertisements
  • Or you must not use it on branded items (for example, if you want to produce merch or are running a print-on-demand store.

You’ll sure want to take a good hard look at and carefully read the terms and conditions of the specific license your stock photo vendor applies to the images you download.

Several Layers of Potential Copyright Problems

But it gets better — or rather worse, from your point of view: there’s also the fact that many images on stock photo websites (especially free stock photos) might not actually be adhering to copyright in their content itself. You can easily manage finding tons of images depicting copyrighted materials..

Obviously, using any of these is likely to get you into trouble.

So what do you do?

First, familiarize yourself with the legalities

Second, ensure that you carefully vet your designers, as they need to be aware of all these legalities before they use stock photos in their designs for you.

Third, find good websites to download from and only source from the best stock photo websites.

Get License Insurance

Unsurprisingly, others are aware of the problem, too. So it is not just me, as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Pond5 is offering Licensing Insurance cover of up to $1M for images you license from They also have a pretty stringent review process (making it less likely that any property-release requiring imagery is found in their images).

Use one of the links above to go to Pond5 quickly and easily.

Disclosure: Where available, links provided in this article are affiliate links. Buying through these, we earn a commission. This does not increase the price you pay — on the contrary, in the case of Pond5 and you  signing up through any of our affiliate links it’ll give you a 20% discount on your first order.