High quality stock images are available at bargain rates from agencies, and there’s a huge variety to choose from. However, navigating round the different licence types can be somewhat confusing. It can be devastating to your business if someone finds you using their image outside the terms of its licence!
Making head or tail of each site’s terms & conditions is daunting even on a good day, so we’ve summarised the most typical and common here.
Royalty-free licensed images have just a few restrictions, the main being that the maximum number of printed copies allowed is typically around 500,000: more than enough for most business use.
A limited royalty-free licence is placed on images which do not cost you as a designer. If you use the image in printed media, the maximum number of copies is usually around 10,000.
A news-worthy image depicting current affairs or past events from social cultural and political scenes is usually covered by an editorial licence. Sensitive usage restrictions will apply, and your article or broadcast must therefore be truthful and accurate. Buying the image with this licence does not transfer the copyright: you can not claim that the image is your own.
A key difference between a royalty-free licence and an editorial licence is that, with an editorial licence, identifiable people in the photo may not have signed a model release. Cropping and adjusting tonal values of the picture is acceptable, but the use of clone brushes or other artistic filters is generally not.
Satirical periodicals – such as Private Eye – must really fork out to obtain the images used in their publications, as to use an image depicting real people and events in a satirical context often requires an extended licence, which can cost a lot more to obtain.
Extended licences vary from agency to agency and you should seek confirmation if in doubt. Typically they extend the use of an image to saleable physical materials (mugs, mouse mats and so on) or web templates created for resale.
If you’re feeling particularly flush and get very attached to a particular image, some agencies provide the ability to buy the rights to the image, which – depending on the image – can cost several thousand pounds. If this is the case, you might consider commissioning a photographer or investing in a good camera for yourself!