Understanding Image Licensing Online

Image Licensing - guide to using other peoples images

Purchasing & Using Other People’s Images Online & Offline

Image licensing can be complicated if you do not fully understand the different licenses. What’s allowed, what’s not? Do you have to include a link or attribution for the original?

Note: Attribution refers to crediting the original poster of the image whether that is by name, linking to the original or some other form as specified in the license agreement.

It is not acceptable to simply save an image off Google and add it to your website, in fact, this could lead to legal action. Realistically, if you have a small website for a small local business it will probably go unnoticed and nothing will come of it, however, it doesn’t change the fact that it is illegal. All digital images are categorized into specific license categories, with each category having different usage and attribution requirement.

Although there are hundreds of different types of licenses and each individual copyright owner can create their own licensing agreement there are a few standardized ones. The following is a list of the most common types of image licenses:

purchasing images with licenses1. Royalty Free

2. Rights Managed

3. Subscription

4. Creative Commons

 

 

Each of these comes different standards for use and attribution. Some require payment, others don’t, some require direct links, some require no attribution. It all depends on the license.

1. Royalty Free

This license allows a user to purchase a single image (generally based on price) and use as much as they want once they have purchased it. The reason it is generally charged by size of the image is that the larger the image the more places it can be used. Large hi-res images can be used in print and then compressed to also be used on web. A small web image however cannot be used in print. With a Royalty Free image the initial price may be slightly higher but once you have purchased the image you are able to use as you wish and reuse as much as possible.

2. Rights Managed

Rights Managed is a more traditional way of licensing images. As a user you pay for what you are going to be using it for and the size you require the image. Is it going to be part of a national marketing campaign including web, print, and billboard advertising? Or maybe its going to be a small background image in a small hyper-niche trade journal, or a thumbnail image on a small business website. All of these are calculated into the price. When purchasing the image you are required to state what you want to do with the image, how many uses, what sizes etc. and then you are given a price. For single use small images this can be the cheapest option, however the more you want to use the image the more expensive it will become.

3. Subscription

A hybrid of the two mentioned above, the subscription license allows users to subscribe to a service and download and use images as much as they want while they are subscribers to the service. Once they unsubscribe however, they are no longer licensed to include the images on any new projects. This means that you can use the images however and wherever you like while you subscribe but once you cancel your subscription you are no longer allowed to use any downloaded images going forward. Retroactively you are fine and can continue using images you had used during the subscription time period.

4. Creative Commons

A relatively new licensing style, the creative commons is a way for publishers to share their content for free while still maintaining copyrights. This license has multiple levels of its own, however, the basic premise is that people give out their images for free with little to no restrictions. You are able to go to one of the free stock imagery sites (some of my favourites include Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash), download the images and use freely in as many sizes and locations you wish. Note – most free stock image sites only stock images licensed under the CCO license allowing for free distribution, modification, and use of images without attribution. It is advisable however to check the websites policy before using any images on your own website. 

One condition is Creative Commons licenses generally only apply to online publishing (except the CCO license), therefore if you want to use the images in any print you will need to contact the license holder directly to get permission. The different versions of the Creative Commons licenses will also determine whether or not attribution is required or not. The majority of free stock photo sites such as the ones mentioned above utilize the CCO licensing allowing for full un-tethered usage of the images. For a full list see the Creative Commons Attribution Requirements Table.

Please note: the same licensing applies to images on social media, however the accepted practice is that you are allowed to share another persons image on your own page as long as a link or mention of the original user is added. Solely taking someone else’s image and sharing it on your social media accounts is just as illegal as using it on your website or print materials. 

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