Stock Image Licenses

Hi everyone! I’m wondering if someone could provide some advice regarding the purchasing of licenses for stock images when designing products for a client that they plan to sell.

For example, if I have a paid job where my client intends to sell the prints that I’ve designed for them and I buy an extended license for a stock image, how is the client legally protected to sell these designs when it is technically me that owns the license? And can I reuse that image for other projects?

Also, what is recommend in terms of pricing associated with the purchasing of a license, do I add the full stock image license cost to the invoice only if I plan not to use it again? Or, do I request that the client buy the license and if so then am I even protected to make designs with it?

For all previous jobs that have required the use of images, they have been free to use for personal and commercial purposes. However, I am now receiving higher paid opportunity jobs which are more suited to buying higher quality (and sometimes, very specific) images that just can’t be found on sites like pixabay or unsplash. The legal issues surrounding all of this makes my frail mind hurt! Am I just overcomplicating things?

It’s all covered in the EULA from the stock site that you buy it from.
Each could be different - so there is no blanket answer.

If in doubt - get in touch with the company.

My point of view:
If it’s for a client and I buy it on their behalf - I cannot use it for another project.
If it needs to be used for another project - you buy it again.

It’s 100% better for the client to purchase the stock image - they control the purchase, they control the asset.


As Smurf2 said, a lot of it is just a matter of reading through and adhering to the EULA.

License are generally not transferable, so if you buy a stock license for an image and use it on a client project, that client does not own the license and cannot use the image for other purposes. For this reason, I always encourage clients to buy the images themselves. I’ll provide links to those images, then have them download them for me. If they don’t want to do this, fine. I’ll download it for them, mark up the price a bit since it all takes time, but not send them the original file. Much the same also applies to fonts.

Will I reuse licensed stock art that is in my name? Sure, if the EULA permits it.

Shutterstock’s explanation of whether their licenses are transferable:

As I said - every site will be slightly different (or slightly the same - whatever way you look at it )
There is no blanket answer.
If in doubt - contact the company directly and ask. It’s far easier to find out from them directly than 2nd guess and a have a bunch of random answers on a forum.

This seems like the easier option for sure. Although I’m confused about my part in the client owning the license. As I am then technically earning money on a project using images I don’t have the right to use?

And does this mean that I will be allowed to use these designs in my portfolio and on social media? Or will I also need to buy a standard license in order to do that?

You’d need to check with each individual stock site you are buying from.
I cannot say it enough - if you are in doubt contact them directly.

If you’re supplied an image by a client - you cannot use that in any other project.

You are earning money using a supplied asset that was supplied to you in good faith. It’s completely up to the client to ensure they have purchased the correct license and that that license allows it to be transferred to a designer to work on.

You probably would have 0 issues using it in your Portfolio or in Social Media promoting your business.

But most do not not allow the stock images to be used commercially - that is on an item that is being sold, like mugs/tshirts/pens etc. that contains the stock image.

You’re earning money by helping a client use an image with a license they’ve purchased. There’s no problem here.

You’re overthinking the problem and getting tangled up in minutiae.

At the risk of confusing you further, copyright laws aren’t entirely black and white. There are gray areas where common sense and good faith come into play. For that matter, there are gray areas in most laws.

For example, let’s say you live in a sleepy residential neighborhood and you walk across the street to talk to your neighbor. Will you get in trouble with the police for jaywalking? Once you get across the street, you step onto another neighbor’s lawn without his permission. Will he be entitled to press charges against you for trespassing? While talking to your neighbor and standing on the sidewalk for ten minutes, are you both violating the city’s loitering ordinances?

As I mentioned, a certain amount of common sense and best intentions are necessary for navigating one’s way through life’s uncertainties.

At my office, we have two basic ways of storing images. First, we have a generic stock image folder where we store images we have licensed to us as a company; and when a client sends an image of their own, we store that independently in a folder with the other job files.

The general rule is if we have something licensed to us, we can re-use it in future setups that fall within that agreement, but if a client sent us an image, that image is effectively theirs and we are being contracted to make something with it, so we don’t touch it again unless that client asks us to. I’ve been dreading cleaning up our font library the same way - I can’t tell you how many “Demo” and “Personal Use” fonts from well before my time I’ve found just hanging out.

It may help to think of them as tools -say you bought a lawnmower - you can mow all the lawns you want with it. But if your friend payed you to mow their lawn with their lawnmower, you don’t get to take their lawnmower home and mow other lawns with it.

As far as portfolio display goes, I also tend to get wrapped up in worrying what’s appropriate and what’s not when stock/pre-supplied images are involved. It’s good to be clear on what is and isn’t your work when you’re displaying a piece, but as long as neither the stock license or your agreement with the client requires confidentiality, I think you’d be fine. If you still felt nervous, you could always include details about the stock used in your descriptions, eg “Project X created in Software Y using stock image supplied by Z”

Of course, I had just assumed I would also need a license for the image to even touch it for the client’s (license owner) project. But I understand this is not the case! I’m just overcomplicating, but will contact company’s directly if their EULA isn’t always 100% clear. Thank you for your advice Smurf2!

No, jaywalking is not illegal in my country :rofl:

Also not a criminal offence here :rofl: But I appreciate the analogies! Sound like the life of someone with severe anxiety, I guess I seem to freak regarding subjects that appear more complicated than they actually are.

Thank you for your answers everyone! Really informative. The topic doesn’t seem as daunting to me now for sure.

The only time I had to contact a stock site (recently that I remember anyway) was to request a larger image than what they had (they don’t always have them) - and to find out if it was ok to use for a client on a truck trailer that would be parked at the side of the road as advertising.

I was unclear if I needed a different license, one that was for vehicles, or for billboards, or for something else - plus it was for a client.

The stock site straightaway told me what Licesne was required, the €160 or whatever it was was paid by the client and they sent me the image.

All above board, and they kept a EULA in the zip folder with the image.

When you’re putting together a proposal for a project - do you tell your clients to allow an additional sum for stock photography or do you build an allowance into your proposal?

It’s an addendum of stock image pricing at the bottom of the estimate of additional charges.

*1-5 stock images @€20 or something like that.
**Extended licenses are priced separately.

That gives for the estimate that they can decide how many stock images they require.
20 stock images would be €80.

The stock account costs about €250 a month for 750 downloads.
And we never reach 750 downloads a month - so they roll over.

For a huge print job now some people can be pretty scabby.

We have in the past asked a client to purchase the Extended License at hefty fees (Getty Images) - but we discount the image fee in the final invoice.
But we add it on in the margin. We get paid either way.

Client thinks they got the image for free.

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