Depending on who you ask and where you look, studies say that consumers are faced with hundreds to thousands of marketing messages each day.
What’s the common goal for all of these messages?
To stand out and get read.
How can you do that?
In addition to worthwhile content, it’s key to use photographs and other images that are consistent with your brand while helping to convey your message. It’s been proven that readers respond to content and articles much more if they include a visual.
How do you do that when budget and timing are too tight to create a custom image?
Many times you’ll turn to stock imagery for photos, video clips and illustrations.
There are millions of stock images available for purchase through various websites such as Getty Images, iStock, Veer, Corbis, Shutterstock, and the list goes on and on. These sites all offer royalty-free stock images (some also offer rights-managed images).
“Rights-managed stock” vs “royalty-free stock”
The big difference between rights-managed stock and royalty-free stock is that rights-managed grants a license for specific, limited usage, usually based on length of use, market, region, size, location, media (web, print, outdoor etc.), quantity or circulation, and so on. The term “multi-seat” will usually not come into play.
“Royalty-free” means the licensed user can purchase the image for a one-time fee and use it as long as they wish. Most allow the image to be used in generous quantities and for just about anything, except on a product that will be sold, such as t-shirts, jackets, hats, mugs, etc. Some images do note that they are for “editorial use only.”
Most people turn to these sites, find an image they like, see a price and think, “Great! It’s royalty-free and inexpensive, I’ll buy it and use it, no problem!” STOP! Be aware of the term “multi-seat” that is often associated with royalty-free stock images. You should read and be familiar with the usage legal text on each site that you use, and be sure you completely understand what you’re buying.
Multi-Seat License — Do you need one?
Does your company include more people than just yourself, and will those other people need access to the image? If yes, then you need a multi-seat license.
Will you be sharing the image in any way, including putting it on your internal digital assets or content server for people throughout your office to access? If yes, then you need one.
Currently, in many cases (but not all), a multi-seat license will cost extra, but it allows multiple users within your organization legal usage and access to the image or video footage purchased. If you only purchase the basic license, in most cases you’re legally agreeing to only use that image yourself and to only store it on your individual computer.
A multi-seat license does not allow the licensed user or anyone else to host the image or footage for the world to use, or to resell the image or usage rights. However, it does allow you to share it within your organization, up to the multi-seat limit.
As long as we’re talking about usage, we should mention the words “free” and “fonts.”
Throughout the thousands of stock houses available, you’ll find more than a few that also offer free, open source or Creative Commons Zero (CC0) royalty-free stock images, footage and fonts.
Just about all of these sites state that it’s okay for you to use these items within your blog or marketing materials, free of charge. Most explain that you must attribute credit to the original creator in a specific way, usually by including the attribution and a ling back to the creator’s website under the image as well as at the end of your blog post or the bottom of the page.
All of that sounds fine, but BUYER (or in this case, NON-BUYER) BEWARE!
In many cases, the content creator does give these sites permission to distribute their work free of charge. However, many of these creators also state that they are the only legal owner of the work. They go on to explain that they retain all rights and that at any time they can exercise their right and insist that you stop using their work.
A key point worth mentioning.
Most of these “free” sites allow any user to upload their images directly for the masses to use. The problem is, sometimes dishonest people will illegally upload images that they do not own. It would be very difficult for you to know this, but you could still be responsible for damages. Again, “non-buyer beware.”
Many “free” sites’ legal disclaimers note:
“[Website] has not verified the copyright status of any work with which [website] has been supplied. [Website] makes no warranties about any work or its copyright status in any jurisdiction, and disclaims all liability for all uses of any work.”
What is this saying? It’s telling you that if anyone that’s associated with the “free” image that you used has an issue with it, they can come after you and/or your organization. This is a risk we recommend you avoid.
The best practices that EMA follows and we suggest our clients follow are:
- When obtaining custom photography is not possible, purchase all of your stock images, footage and/or fonts from reputable sites and sources.
- Make sure that you read the licensing associated with the work you’re purchasing.
- Purchase the usage that best suits your and your clients’ needs.
If you follow these simple guidelines, chances are good you’ll avoid having image-sniffing “bots” find stock images on your or your clients’ websites or other digital marketing materials that may not be properly licensed. This could save you from being the recipient of a copyright infringement notice that could result in embarrassment, as well as the possibility of paying thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees.
When in doubt, play it safe. There are rarely 100% risk-free solutions. If you’re unsure, you should seek competent counsel before using content downloaded for any commercial purposes.