How to Use Stock Photos Legally (Common Mistakes to Avoid)

stock photos

The average individual does not understand how to use stock photos legally. Contrary to popular belief, not all photos that are readily available are subject to fair use. While stock photos can be a useful addition to your websites, marketing materials, etc., they are subject to copyright laws and known copyright restrictions.

Often, you can utilize stock photo sites for personal and commercial use. Before beginning, it’s important to understand the context in which you can use these images. Using stock photos without proper permission or attribution can lead to legal trouble. It can also result in potential financial penalties.

Knowing how to use stock photos properly is especially important when cultivating your brand image. If you use a stock photo improperly in business, it could harm the reputation of your company. Therefore, it is vital to understand the basics of fair use and copyright law before using a stock photo.

In this blog, we will discuss these common mistakes to avoid and how to use stock photos legally.

Table Of Contents

What are Stock Photos?

what are stock images?

Stock photos (stock photographs) are images provided by the photographers or people who take the photos. The owners upload their images to stock companies for others to purchase, use them for free, or other copyright use. These stock photographs cover a wide range of subjects, such images as nature, people, animals, and objects.

Stock photo websites store all the photos in online libraries and databases. Before utilizing these databases, it’s important to understand the relationship between copyright and stock photos. A stock photo agency is a company or website that specializes in providing a wide range of high-resolution photos for various purposes.

Individuals and organizations can license for commercial purposes the extensive collections of photos, illustrations, and other visual content offered by these stock photo agencies. A photographer can sell their picture, upload it to a stock agency, and accrue revenue from buyers who purchase the images online.

Business use of stock photos and personal use of stock photos from stock photography websites can be beneficial. However, before utilizing the image, many stock photo sites require some type of license.

5 Types of License Used for Stock Photographs

There are various sorts of licenses for stock photographs available. They range from a premium stock photo site to a free stock photo site. Common licenses include:

Royalty Free License (RF)

Royalty-Free Image (RF) License is the most popular type of license. It allows you to use the same image or same photo multiple times in different projects without incurring additional fees. However, there may be restrictions on the number of copies of the free stock photos or viewers. Before using the photographs for commercial purposes, make sure to carefully read and examine the terms of the royalty-free license. Learn more in detail about RF images. is an example of a company that offers royalty-free images. Freepik offers a vast selection of images, illustrations, and vectors that can be useful for personal and commercial projects. Read more about their license agreement and what pricing plans they offer. Freepik makes it easy to find the license and determine the proper permission for the image.

Image by Freepik is a popular website that offers a vast collection of high-quality free images. Getty Images owns Unsplash. If you upgrade to Unsplash+ License, they offer a warranty of up to $10,000 (US) per licensed photo.

Rights Managed License (RM)

Rights-Managed (RM) License has restrictions on stock photo usage and requires that you pay for each specific use of the image. The usage rights for stock photos pricing depends on the factors such as the size, duration, and geographic distribution of the image. Rights Managed License is usually more expensive, but it offers exclusivity. This means the image won’t be available to others during your licensed period.

Some example companies to purchase Rights managed images are Archangel and Trevillion.

Creative Commons License (CC)

The public is familiar with the Creative Commons License, generally known as (CC). A Creative commons license may have different variations. However, the term “Creative Commons” generally signals that the owner allows usage of free stock photos with certain conditions. Some Creative Commons licenses require attribution to the original photographer, while others may restrict commercial use or require commercial use license modifications. You can also use the Creative Commons to acquire free images for social media posts.

Pexels is an example that offers a collection of free stock photos and videos under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. The site is well-known for its high-quality visuals and simple search capabilities.

Another example of a company that offers Creative commons license is Wikimedia Commons. The image below is an example of how you would add a CC image to your website.

Topographical map of the world; see Image:World map.pdf Copyright © 2000 David Mo
Topographical map of the world, Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux

Editorial Use Only License (EUO)

Editorial Use Only (EUO) License is specifically for using images in news articles, documentaries, or educational content where accuracy and context are crucial. It typically prohibits commercial use.

One example of a company that offers Editorial Use is Getty Images. They allow you to embed a photo for free for non-commercial use. More information about working files.

Extended License

Extended License grants additional rights beyond a standard license. You can use the extended license, such as for an image on merchandise for resale or in large print runs.

One example of a company that offers extended license is StockPhotos.

Knowing the types of license to use will help you ensure that you correctly utilize the image.

What are Royalty-Free Images? Explained in Detailed


Royalty-free images are a popular type of licensing agreement in the world of stock photography. Knowing how they work can help you make informed decisions when selecting and using stock photos.

Royalty-free photos, commonly called “generic images,” are especially useful as they are flexible and cost-effective. Purchasing a royalty-free image grants you the right to use it multiple times. You can use these images in different projects without the need to pay additional fees for each use.

However, it’s important to note that “royalty-freedoes not imply that you can use the image free of charge. Acquiring this type of license for an image typically involves an upfront cost. The cost may vary based on a variety of factors including the image’s size and resolution, quality, and licensing company or photographer.

One significant advantage of using royalty-free photos is ease of use. They are readily available from numerous stock photo agencies. They are also easy to access and download for your editorial and commercial use. These images cover a wide range of subjects, styles, and themes, making it easier to find suitable visuals for your specific needs.

While royalty-free images offer flexibility and convenience, it’s essential to understand the specific terms and conditions of each standard royalty free license contract. Some restrictions may still apply, such as limitations on the number of copies or viewers, usage in certain industries or contexts, or restrictions on resale or redistribution. It’s crucial to review the royalty free licenses information provided by the stock photo agency or content creator to ensure compliance with their specific usage guidelines.

Keep in mind that another person or business could use the same images, including on their own personal websites or social media posts.

How to Use Paid and Free Stock Pictures Legally?

Understanding correct usage and legal licensing requirements is critical when using paid or free stock picture websites. This helps to ensure you use stock photos in a legal and ethical manner, reducing the risk of copyright infringement.

Free Stock Photo Sites

The question “Are stock photos free to use?” is very common. The answer varies depending on the type of license associated with the free photo. When integrating free images from free image sites, ascertain the type of license affiliated with the image. This will help you determine how you can use it.

The type of license will point you in the right direction before you download images from a free stock site. After you download the free photo, make sure you use it legally and respect the license requirements. If you cannot find the license, then do your research to properly attribute the free photo.

When typing “find free images” in a search engine, it’s important to be cautious about the wording used. Look out for phrases like “free stock photos,” “free stock photo sites,” “free stock site,” “free image site,” “free stock photo site,” and similar variations. The word “free” does not necessarily mean “use it as you see fit.” It’s important to note that most free images require proper licensing or permissions for legal use.

Paid Stock Pictures

Paid stock pictures and high-quality images from stock agencies list the type of license attached to it. When researching, choose reputable stock pictures. These reputable stock agencies will offer a wide range of high-quality images. Make sure they have clear licensing terms and a good reputation for providing legally sourced content. This process helps ensure that the images you download are legitimate, properly licensed, and that you avoid copyright issues when purchasing stock photos.

Each image will have specific usage guidelines, restrictions, or requirements outlined in the license agreement. Pay attention to factors such as permitted usage, limitations on modifications, and any attribution requirements. Understanding these terms will help you use the images within the boundaries of the license.

Therefore, it is important to properly attribute the image correctly. Because, some stock pictures require proper attribution to give credit to the original photographer. Therefore, make sure to include it in a visible and appropriate manner.

This typically involves mentioning the photographer’s name or providing a link to their portfolio alongside the image. Proper attribution not only respects the rights of the original photographer but also helps maintain transparency and integrity in your projects.

Keep Track of Paid and Free Stock Photos You Legally Downloaded

Keeping track of your paid and free images is vital. Before downloading any images legally, always check the license page before utilizing photographs as your own photos. We also suggest you document every free photo or paid image you obtain for your records. Keep track of the type of license, provide a description of the photo and where you obtained the photo. This ensures that, if you receive an infringement letter, you can provide an explanation for how you obtained the image.

Below is an example of our firm’s image records, recorded in Google Spreadsheet. You can create a similar spreadsheet to keep track of all your images.


What is Proper Model Release?


A “proper model release” is typically used in situations where you want to use someone’s likeness, such as their photograph or video, for commercial purposes. A model release is a legal document that grants permission from the individual (the model) to the person or entity using their image (the photographer or company). This release ensures that the model has consented to the use of their likeness and protects both parties from any potential legal issues.

You would also use a model release in commercial context, such as advertising, marketing campaigns, or product endorsements. It is essential to obtain a signed model release to ensure that you have the necessary rights and permissions to use the person’s likeness in these situations. This helps protect you from potential claims of unauthorized use and ensures that you are acting ethically and legally.

What is Property Release?

Property release is a legal document to use for images or videos that feature identifiable private property for commercial purposes. A property release is similar to a model release but pertains to the rights and permissions related to private property rather than individuals. It grants permission from the owner of the property, or their authorized representative, to use images or videos of the property for business-related or for-profit.

You would use a property release when you plan to use photographs or videos that prominently feature private property in a commercial context. This could include using images of buildings, interiors, landmarks, or other identifiable properties for advertising, marketing campaigns, or editorial purposes.

To obtain a property release, you would typically need to contact the owner of the property or their authorized representative and request their consent in writing. Both parties involved should sign the release, and it should clearly outline the terms and conditions of use. This helps ensure that you have the necessary rights and permissions to use the images or videos of the property in a commercial manner, while protecting yourself from potential legal issues.

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Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Stock Photos

avoid copyright litigation

Knowing how stock photos work is essential for avoiding common mistakes. Therefore, using stock photography incorrectly can lead to legal implications or violations of licensing agreements. To avoid these common mistakes it is beneficial to know the restrictions and guidelines associated with the images before downloading them from stock agencies.

By familiarizing yourself with the usage restrictions, licensing terms, and any specific requirements related to attribution or modifications, you can ensure that you are using the images in a compliant and legal manner.

This proactive approach helps prevent unintentional violations and ensures a smooth experience when using stock photos. Most stock photo sites ensure that this information is readily available for consumer review.

Here are Some Mistakes to Steer Clear of When Using Stock Photos

It is important to understand that using images without permission or proper attribution can lead to legal trouble. Therefore, it is crucial to obtain the necessary permissions or licenses before using any stock pictures.

Simply downloading an image from the internet without proper authorization can result in copyright infringement. Additionally, if the license requires attribution, make sure to credit the photographer or source as specified.

Modifying images without permission is not a good idea. Stock photos often come with specific usage guidelines, including restrictions on modifications. Altering an image without obtaining permission from the copyright holder or violating the terms of use can lead to legal consequences. Always respect the original creator’s rights and seek permission if you need to make any changes. Using images in a way that violates the license agreement can cause you to receive a copyright violation letter.

Each photo’s license agreement outlines how you can use the image. It is essential to read and understand these terms before incorporating the image into your project for commercial purposes. Violating the license agreement by exceeding usage limits, using it for prohibited purposes, or distributing it beyond permitted boundaries can result in legal repercussions.

To avoid these mistakes, take the time to research and select reputable stock photo agencies that provide clear licensing terms. Respecting the copyright restrictions and stock image license will help you avoid any potential legal pitfalls.

When Using Free Stock Images, What is The Difference Between Personal Use and Commercial Use?

When using free stock images, the distinction between personal use and commercial use depends on how you are using the image. Personal use refers to using the image for non-commercial, private purposes, such as personal projects, wallpapers, or sharing with friends and family.

On the other hand, commercial use involves using the image for business-related activities, such as advertising, marketing materials, websites, or products intended for sale. Commercial use typically requires obtaining proper licenses or permissions from the copyright holder and may involve additional fees.

It’s important to carefully read and understand the license terms of each stock image to ensure compliance with the terms of intended use.

Are Public Domain Images Copyrighted?

No, public domain images are not copyrighted. When an image is in the public domain, it means that the copyright protection has expired, been forfeited, or does not apply to that particular image. As a result, anyone can use public domain images freely for any purpose without needing to seek permission or pay royalties.

When using public domain images, be cautious because they may retain some intellectual property rights. For example, if an image includes recognizable individuals or trademarked elements, you may still need to obtain permission or consider privacy and publicity rights.

To ensure that an image is truly in the public domain and free from copyright restrictions, it’s advisable to conduct thorough research and verify its status. There are reputable sources and online repositories that curate collections of public domain images for easy access and proper attribution.

Original material that you create yourself (via photo editing software, etc.) can provide for reasonable alternatives to free stock photos for commercial use. Your own material can consist of photography you’ve taken yourself, vintage photos that you own the rights to, or personal artwork that you have edited. It’s important to copyright this material to ensure that another entity does not use it without permission.

An individual or business can copyright their photos by way of an application submitted to the United States Copyright Office. You can take the steps to submit an application on your own or you can hire legal counsel to assist you.

They can assist you with acquiring a copyright registration for your protectable, original material. Once the registration has been issued, you can place the “©” symbol next to your copyrighted photos.

How to Stop Someone From Using My Copyrighted Images?

Copyright ownership is a valuable asset for any business entity. It is essential that copyright owners take steps to ensure that their copyrighted material isn’t being illegally utilized by other parties.

If you receive notice that another entity is illegally utilizing your copyrighted material, you should contact legal counsel. Typically, they will assist you with drafting and delivering a cease and desist letter notifying the party of their infringement. If the entity continues to utilize the images without permission, counsel can escalate the matter by filing a lawsuit.

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If you have received a copyright infringement notice for your unlicensed use of an image, you should reach out to legal counsel. These notices usually take the form of a cease and desist letter. If counsel determines that you have infringed, they can assist you with rectifying the dispute with a response.

Generally speaking, to avoid legal repercussions pertaining to copyright infringement and stock photos, use a “free image” for commercial projects with caution.

Performing a reverse image search can serve as a useful tool for various purposes. It can help find the original source of an image, identify similar images, or discover more information about a particular image. Here are a few methods you can use to do a reverse image search:

1. Google Images:

  • Go to the Google Images website (
  • Click on the camera icon in the search bar.
  • You can either paste the URL of the image or upload an image from your device.
  • Google will then display visually similar images and provide links to web pages where the image appears.

2. TinEye:

  • Visit the TinEye website (
  • Click on the arrow icon in the search bar.
  • Upload an image from your device or enter the URL of the image you want to search.
  • TinEye will show you where else on the internet the image is located.

3. Bing Image Search:

  • Go to Bing’s Image Search page (
  • Click on the camera icon in the search bar.
  • You can either paste the URL of the image or upload an image from your device.
  • Bing will provide visually similar images and related web pages.

These are just a few popular options for performing reverse image searches. Each platform may have its own unique features and capabilities, so feel free to explore and find one that suits your needs best. Happy searching!


Using stock photos is a great way to enhance any project you have. We hope this blog helped you to know how to use stock photos legally and how to implement them properly.

It is best to know all the pertinent rules, guidelines, and laws before adding any image that belongs to someone else. If the website does not have a copyright sign, that does not mean you can use it as you see fit.

You can get in touch with one of our copyright attorneys if you have questions about a photo. We do charge a fee, but this fee will be minuscule compared to a fine or lawsuit.

Things to remember. The photography agency offers a selection of rights-managed images or rights managed license for commercial projects and editorial use. Pay attention to make sure you are not adding bad stock images to your project.


Can I use free stock photos for commercial use?

Yes, there are forms of permissible commercial use of free stock photos. Carefully check the license terms before doing so. The licensing conditions available include Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licenses or licensing terms that limit commercial usage or require attribution.

Can I use a stock photo as my business logo?

Using a stock photo as your business logo is not recommended. Typically, stock images are licensed for specific uses, such as website content or marketing materials, but not as logos. Logos should be unique images that represent your specific brand identity.

Can you get in trouble for using Google Images?

Yes, it is possible to get in trouble for using Google Images. There are numerous legal risks of using stock photos. It is critical to recognize and respect the image owners’ rights. To minimize potential legal difficulties, we advise choosing licensed or royalty-free photos for your work.

Can you use stock images for free with watermark?

No, you cannot use stock images with watermarks for free. Watermarked photos are a preview or sample that should not be used unless properly licensed or purchased.

Do I need to credit stock photos?

Some stock image websites do require attribution and crediting for stock photos. Others may require license agreements for stock photos.


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