Using stock photos, design practices, & legal issues

I’m currently working on a project and am in need of some royalty-free stock photos. Google image search pulls up some appropriate photos at a couple different stock sites (Shutterstock and 123rf).
The thing is, I’ve never used these sites before, and I was under the impression I could just buy the necessary image for around $25. Perusing the site, it seems like, even if you want something monthly, you have to pre-pay for a year anyways. :frowning:

I have some concerns though after doing a little web research on using royalty-free stock images:

  1. Are most of the well-known stock photo sites paid for annually? I think Shutterstock has a pre-paid plan for 2 images for $29, but I don’t know if there’s some hidden provisos that you only get low-res images or something.

  2. My biggest concern is that I’ve read that big stock sites comb the web looking for people who use their photos without permission and sue them, and sometimes they do it to people who DID have permission. What the hell?? Apparently if you don’t have a receipt for purchase you can end up being sued by the big site and hopefully ONLY have to settle it for $500. Should I make sure I save every single digital receipt of every photo I purchase/download at these sites?

And sometimes these companies buy up the small FREE royalty-free stock sites, and then go after people using those images, despite them using them when they were from the free website.
How do you protect yourself in that particular case?

  1. But once you get a royalty-free image from say, Shutterstock or Getty, you’re good to use that in any kind of work, right? If I’m making a print design for a company, and use a royalty-free photo of a cocktail drink, or metal background pattern, I’m good right? I don’t have to pay any additional licensing fees?

  2. Are most designers heavily dependent on stock photos/images? I’ve heard that if you heavily manipulate a photo you can use it for free in your image, but I don’t know to what degree that would work for.

Thanks for any responses!

Not sure if its the same for other countries, but in the UK Adobe offer a free trial of their stock photo service (Adobe Stock) you will have to input your card details, but won’t have to pay anything as long as you cancel the service before your trial ends.

I think you get 10 free images with the trial. Check everything I have said to be safe, but I’m sure I have it right.

Good luck!

You are kinda misinformed.

  1. If you buy enough credits for a one-time purchase on a stock site, you get the full resolution image. That’s how I buy almost all my stock.

  2. The larger stock sites, Getty in particular do look for people using their images off license. The only instances I’ve heard of are usually Rights Managed stock, where people have purchased the print rights for an image then somehow the image gets used additionally online, either through error or through ignorance. They will bill you for that second usage, and it ain’t cheap. If purchasing Rights Managed stock, always be sure to have the appropriate usage rights, tag the license to the image, and make a note in the Get Info pane of the image itself and mark it with a copyright so it is visible when you open the file, just to avoid costly errors. Royalty Free stock doesn’t have this issue. If you have a license you can use an RF image for whatever reason.

2a. As for receipts, YOU ARE RUNNING A BUSINESS. Of course you keep your receipts. When you download an image, it should come with a license and an invoice (though if you are purchasing under a subscription or credit purchase you need to make note.) Just put them in your job folder. If you use a Royalty Free image a second time for a different job, copy the license and the receipt into the new job folder. For Rights Managed images, you have to renegotiate a new license for a second use.

2c. They WILL come looking for you if you purchased a Rights Managed image and have exceeded your terms of use limit, either in years or impressions. Royalty Free images have two tiers of use defined as Standard and Extended. If you are using the stock for print on items you resell, you usually have to get an extended license, depending on the stock company involved.

  1. Sometimes bigger companies do buy up smaller companies (or even big ones in the case of Getty.) Once you have the usage license, they aren’t going to come looking for you. The records of previous licenses are transferred when the company changes ownership.

  2. Whatever you may have heard about manipulating an image to make it yours is false information. It’s called making a Derivative Work in copyright law. There is no creating yourself out of a copyright infringement. Even if you grab something off a google image search, you are still supposed to contact the rightful owner and ask permission. Which can sometimes be difficult because sometimes they just don’t believe you are for real when offering them money for usage and asking for a rights release. Fun times. Or they don’t look at their Flickr feed until 3 years later and see you offered them $200 for a picture of a bumble bee and they wonder if the offer is still open. Uh, that would be “No.” I’ll usually wait 7-10 business days for a response then move on.

And a small warning, Free Stock sites that allow usage for no money… First of all make sure they are available for Commercial Use. Then be sure you really want it. Here we are always required to get a release from the owner and a statement that the art is their own work. I’ve been around far too many stock sites and see far too many derivative or outright stolen imagery. On a few occasions where I am sure of the offense, they get reported. Most of those sites, the artist hides behind an alias and we never do hear back from them, if they are even reachable. Again, time is money. We move on to the next best photo.

PrintDriver was very thorough, and I agree with what he said.

We have an annual plan with Getty and used to have annual plans with both iStock and Shutterstock. Now, if we need something from, say, Shutterstock that Getty doesn’t have, we just purchase it for a few dollars. You will get full-resolution images doing it this way.

You’re exaggerating the problem. The stock agencies do look for copyright infringements, but they’re not out to get their customers. Yes, you should keep receipts for tax and accounting purposes, as well as for legal reasons. Those are just basic business practices.

If you download something from a free photos site, I’d recommend also downloading their terms of use, any other relevant documentation, dating it, then filing it away for future reference on the off chance that somebody does have an issue with it. Lots of images on free sites are not necessarily legitimate and you’re taking a chance when using them for commercial purposes.

You’re free to use the images in any way specified by the licensing agreement. Some royalty-free images have restrictions, like them only being availaable for editorial purposes but not for advertising. You just need to pay attention to what you purchase, read the agreement and go from there.

We use lots of photos, and hiring photographers to shoot them all would not be cost-effective. Yes, we use lots of stock photos. As for what most designers do, I suppose it depends on the designer.

You’ve been misinformed. Use someone else’s copyrighted materials without their permission, and you’re inviting a call from an attorney; it doesn’t really matter how much you’ve altered it. There are fair use laws, exceptions and a need for a good deal of common sense, but what you’re really asking is if there’s a legal and ethical way to skirt the law and use other people’s work for free. The answer to that is, no.

Spammy Jammy removed :smiley:

Coming from Mirpur, Lakshmipur, Bangladesh, while claiming to be living in the US … tsk tsk …

Not having clicked your self-promotion link to check, just gonna say there is a difference between “Royalty Free” and “Free.”

Royalty Free usually involves a fee of some sort and usually has restrictions on usage. Sure you can use the image multiple times for its expressly licensed purpose, but if you buy a Standard license on an image then decide to exceed the number of impressions, you do have to renegotiate for an Extended license.

While you may get imagery without a watermark by simply making an account and downloading a comp, that is, in effect, illegal to do. You are supposed to pay for the license on royalty free stock.

Free images, on the other hand, usually have a “Legal” page that you need to read before downloading, and sometimes each image will be tagged with the type of license it carries.

Some images are for personal use only and may require paying a fee for commercial use (using them in a design, even for your own personal business, is a commercial use.)

Some images are under Creative Commons, which can be a strange one since the legal on that says, sure you can use it, but the work it is used in also must be placed under Creative Commons. Often not a desired situation with real clients. Plus there are different levels of Creative Commons licensing which makes it all that much more confusing. When we use these, we contact the owner and negotiate a more satisfactory term of licensing.

There are all kinds of combinations I’ve seen on free sites and if it isn’t a simple click to contact, I move on. Not worth the time(=money) to pursue any more.

Some images on Free sites are dubious as to their provenance. If the photographer is working under an alias and has no professional site of their own in their bio, be wary.

Some images such as those on Flickr may or may not belong to the person who posted them. Or they may be composites of other’s images in the old, I changed it, it’s mine fallacy. Again contact and be wary.

The other thing about stock images, you can contact the stock company directly.
If you see an image you want but can’t get the site software to give you the license you need, contact the stock company by phone or email. If you have a large number of Rights Managed images for one project, contact the stock company to see if they will give you a package deal. If you want an Editorial Use Only photo for something other than editorial use, contact the stock company and, for a fee, they will negotiate with the agent of the owner of the photo for you. Off-license usage of editorial images can run you several thousand dollars in use fees, so be sure you really want it. The largest sum I’ve ever paid was $3500 and that wasn’t even for a published use. It was a one-off print in a private office building as a 5x8ft mural. In the US, a person has to have been dead 100 years to safely use their image without running into estate issues. There are some exceptions and that 100 years may still vary by state, but don’t make the assumption that because a photo may have been taken before the 1923 cut off date that the person in the photo has been dead that long…

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This was really informative. Thanks, @PrintDriver and @Just-B!

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