Understanding Stock Photo Licensing

Using professional stock photography is a quick and easy way to create professional and polished desktop publishing projects such as flyers, brochures, postcards and newsletters. The Internet has made millions of professional photos available to the public for very reasonable prices, and some are even free. But before you start downloading, there are a few things you need to understand about using stock images and photographs. This article will discuss general licensing information for stock photography.

Understanding Licensing

Almost all professional stock photos, free or paid have copyright protection or usage rules associated with them. A copyright protects the creator’s “original works” such as books, art, photography, movies and software. The copyright protects the work from unauthorized copying, distribution and modifications for a specific amount of time.

Copyright Licenses for Images

There are four main types of copyright licenses associated with stock photos and images. These licenses control how the images can be used once images are obtained or purchased.

Rights Managed (RM)

Rights managed copyright licenses allow you to purchase a photo for one particular project. The terms of use are specified in the licensing agreement. RM licenses can be expensive, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the image size and usage.

Royalty Free (RF)

Royalty free copyright licenses allow you to use a photo for multiple projects, for a one-time fee. Many RF photos are even available for free. With RF images, you usually have the right to use it as often as you want, for as long as you need. Be careful, though. Even though the photos have liberal usage, there are often some restrictions. Usage guidelines and restrictions vary depending on which website you obtain RF files. Make sure you check the terms of usage for each site where you purchase your photos. There are many websites that sell RF images, with prices ranging from less than 1 dollar up to several hundred dollars, depending on the size and resolution of the image.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licenses are used by artists to share their work and to increase the amount of items available for free, public use. The Creative Commons license does not take away a person’s copyright, so make sure you familiarize yourself with license rules before you use the image. The popular website Flickr has thousands of creative commons photos available.

Public Domain

Public domain images are images where the copyright has expired, or never had copyright protection. They can also be photos where the owner has released the work into the public domain. Many government websites have public domain licenses, just be sure to read the usage terms first.

Understanding copyright and licensing can be a little confusing at first, but once you do, you can feel confident using professional images in you printed and web materials.