Do clients need to own the rights of any stock art

Hi everyone - I’m a freelance graphic designer. I have a question about stock art etc - I have a Premium subscription to a stock site and their license says I am free to use images for both personal and commercial projects and to modify it, as well as in a website or presentation or app as part of the design.

What happens if I download a photo and then use it as part of a design for a sell sheet for a client? And then the client pays me for the design? Isnt this standard procedure - or legally, is the client supposed to download the photo and give it to me to use - in a sense, must the client own rights to any imagery used?

Am I “selling” the art to them if I download it and use it in a design that that pay me for?

You obtained the license for your use on pieces you create for the client. If the client wants to use the photo elsewhere, then they need to obtain their own license. You can have the client reimburse you (and it’s also appropriate to add a handling fee), but make sure they understand that you aren’t able to transfer the license to them. That’s a violation of the stock TOS.

Some stock agencies will allow you to license images on behalf of your client. In that case, the client has the license and you don’t, but you can use it to produce designs on their behalf.


Usually it is ok to use alongside a piece when it’s appropriate to the piece as a helpful visual aide. Like using a stock photo of an Oil Rig alongside an article about Oil Rigs.

But if you owned an Oil Rig and wanted to sell merchandise for that Oil Rig and used the stock image on your merchandise that was being sold commercially - then you’d be in hot fracking water.

The EULA and TOC of the stock sites can be a bit murky at times.
I’ve often found the best way to get the info is to contact them directly and request clarification on what is allowed and not allowed.

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I’m not getting this. If you want to use the stock photo of an oil rig on commercial merchandise, you pay for the Extended license on RF-type images (Royalty Free -which are not free but pay one price for download)
fill out the Royalties payment calculator on RM-type images (Rights Managed). Both of those options allow for count-limited runs of product.

You might want to check if there is a property release available too (and where it sounds like this is a picture of YOUR oil rig, property release is not a problem :wink: )

If neither option is offered, such as free stock sites, and it’s not mentioned in the EULA,
a. I wouldn’t risk it or
b. contact the photographer if possible-but people who post images under pseuds don’t want to be found, so don’t waste yer time if there are no bios.

When we do serious image acq for a large project, we are designated agents of the client. It takes more communication with the stock source sometimes to do that, as in actually picking up the phone or sending an email to the appropriate person. For the larger stock sites, we have a single point of contact, a sales rep as it were.

All downloaded photos get marked in the Info pane as copyrighted (mark it as such and it will appear in the image name when opening in photoshop) and all of the licensing info is filled in, if it isn’t already there.

If files are being turned over to the client, they should own the image rights. Some images require forms to be filled out that limit usage, and you cannot control what a client might do down the road with files that you give them. I swear Getty has internet bots that seek out their images. They have been known to send bills to people if an image is used online and the license was not written that way. I’ve had other sources that require the original and all copies of the image file used for a project be removed from all devices in the chain of custody, from proofing to printing. Also any prints that were made, ie for proofs. You’ll find this often with art museums.

If you are not turning over the files and the images were Royalty Free (credit or one-shot purchases with unlimited use) you should be fairly safe in doing the purchase yourself.

Note: I’m Not A Lawyer.

There are a lot of things about stock images that can get you in hot water. If anyone ever really read the EULAs they’d never buy them, LOL!

thank you for that nice reply. I was with a company that got busted by Getty because we had purchased rights for a one time print on a brochure cover, but were unaware that the web guys had posted it on a sister site, on an interior page we never visited - and it had been there for months… the Getty bots caught it, just like you said.

Hence my re-thinking this old issue - do my freelance clients need to own the images used?

I’m not sure if these images are royalty free - I do have a subscription, I pay yearly one charge, and I’m able to have unlimited downloads and the license for each file says the same - "You are free to use this image:

  • For both personal and commercial projects and to modify it.
  • In a website or presentation template or application or as part of your design.

You are not allowed to:

  • Sub-license, resell or rent it.
  • Include it in any online or offline archive or database."

I’d contact them but I know what they would say - yes the client needs a license - because they want the money from another subscription -

the site is called Freepik, if you are curious - its NOT Getty, I wont use them again.

thanks for offering your thoughts!

Oh, I forgot to add, - as far as I know, the client is NOT re-using any part of my designs to create new work. If they did that, yes, I know they would need their own license for each image.

If it exists. As I said - ‘you might’.

I forgot the forum rule that you have to cover all circumstances and iron clad every single post.

That is the real issue here. I would make sure your client sign-off on a simple agreement that they WILL NOT use the image for ANY other purpose, then as far as I have always understood license agreements, you should be okay (but I am not a lawyer—I only play one on TV—LOL)

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I’d be less likely to use Freepik than Getty. Getty has a vast, curated and very useful collection. Freepik…welllll…yeah…

Contact them and explain your situation. If they do indeed say the client needs a license, then you have your answer. As inconvenient as that may be, at least you’ll know.

There is no word “might” in that sentence. In fact there is no word ‘might’ in the entire post that sentence came from.

There is no reason to get into hot water over images. Either you can get the license you need, or you can’t. If you can’t, you just move on to the next image that works for the job. It may not be as perfect as the initial pick, but everyone’s wallet is safer.

As for putting fingers in ears and not contacting cuz you think you know the answer is something you don’t want to hear, that works about as well as hoping Getty doesn’t find an inappropriately used web image. I don’t use Freepik, so I don’t know the answer. It may be something as simple as an additional form they email to you that you fill out with the sub-license info, or it could be you are unable to contact them in any meaningful way, so just drop the resource. Not worth the billable time to argue with image sources that make life difficult. Same goes for photogs hiding behind aliases. There are so many other resources out there rather than waste more than 20 minutes to sort something out.