Avoiding Common Image Sourcing Pitfalls: Finding Legal Photos and Graphics

by Emily Retherford

4 min read

For a number of reasons, your small business may need to use photos or graphics. You may be adding content to your blog or developing a newsletter. You may be embarking on a new promotional campaign that requires the use of images. In these situations, you must take the right steps in knowing what you can and cannot use. If you inappropriately use graphics or photos, you could be issued a legal notice for copyright violations. Therefore, you want to take the appropriate steps before selecting images.

Know Different Licence Types

There are a number of types of licences used in the media industry. A rights-managed licence restricts the way the photo can be used. Images under an RM licence may not be free as the author reserves the right to have you pay to use a photo. Oftentimes, the author will give you a pricing schedule based on how the photo is going to be used. If you are using a photo in a blog post, the use of the photo will likely cost less than if the picture is used on a large printed poster. A royalty-fee licence is another type of licence that charges for the right to use an image. This image can be used as many times as you want. You typically have to pay for the right to use a certain size, but you then have the ability to use the image as much as you’d like. You have to pay every time you use an image under an RM licence but only pay one time upfront for an image under an RF licence.

Exclusive Rights

When you agree to purchase the rights to use an image, you can enter into an exclusive agreement. No other person can use the photo’s rights. You should keep this in mind when you look for graphics because this means you are not allowed to use items that are covered by exclusive rights held by someone else. An exclusive rights agreement typically runs for a certain amount of time. Some images are produced under a flat fee licence. With this contract, you get the unlimited use of the image for an unlimited amount of time. Even the creator of the image cannot use the photo; you will always be the sole user with exclusive rights.

Utilizing Subscription Services

If you don’t know how many images you may need, or if you want the flexibility of choosing from a number of graphics, consider signing up for a subscription service. For a flat fee, you get legal access to a distributor’s inventory of graphics and images. Your subscription is a fixed price that may limit how many photos you can use. For example, you may buy a subscription for $99 to access 100,000 photos and legally use 250 of those images. When you sign up for a subscription, make sure to check restrictions on the image size you are allowed to use.

Purchasing Stock Photo Credits

Instead of buying rights to a specific image or purchasing a subscription, you can buy a credit package to control what images you want and how they can be used. Rather than paying ongoing fees, you have a one-time purchase of credits. Additionally, you can earn credits by selling photos to some stock photo sites. Credits are bought in bulk, and you can receive the most effective price per credit by buying larger quantities.

Giving Credit or Link to Author

Some photos with free use can be used as long as you give credit or association to the author. Underneath the photo, include some information about the picture and the person who published it. The basic information you list should include the title of the piece, the author, the source link to the original image, and licences that cover the photo. Keep in mind that although you are able to use a photo, there may be restrictions on changing the shape, colors, or orientation of the photo. Without giving this credit to the author, you are infringing on the rights of the image creator, even if the image is free. To legally use the object, you must make a notation on where you got it.

Legal Waivers

If the author of a photo owns the copyright to that image and the item is not royalty-free, you may still be able to use it for free if the person agrees to release the copyright. For the author to release rights to you, you must have the author sign a release form. This form should include the author’s name, contact information, and signature stating it is fine for you to use the image. The form should be notarized by an independent party to avoid future legal issues. A legal waiver should identify the amount of time you have the right to use the image for free and what purposes you are allowed to use it. If you do not take the steps above, you may end up paying fines and losing your content because you’ve unlawfully used someone else’s work. Understand the different rules surrounding content that is not free so you can appropriately use such media.

References & Resources

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