The Insider’s Handbook on Stock Photo Rights

When it comes to using stock photos, understanding the rights and licenses associated with them is crucial. As a stock photo website user, it’s important to know what you can and cannot do with the images you purchase or download. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of stock photo rights and help you navigate the complexities of licensing agreements.

Types of Licenses

Stock photo websites typically offer two main types of licenses: royalty-free and rights-managed. Each type of license comes with its own set of restrictions and permitted uses.


Royalty-free licenses are the most common type of license offered by stock photo websites. With a royalty-free license, you pay a one-time fee to use the image for an unlimited number of times in a variety of projects. However, there are still some restrictions on how you can use the image.

  • Permitted Uses: Royalty-free images can be used in nearly any type of project, including websites, social media posts, advertisements, and more.
  • Restrictions: While royalty-free images can be used in multiple projects, they typically have a limit on how many times they can be reproduced.


Rights-managed licenses are more restrictive than royalty-free licenses. With a rights-managed license, you pay for the specific use of an image for a limited period of time. This type of license is often used for high-profile projects where exclusivity and usage restrictions are important.

  • Permitted Uses: Rights-managed images have specific permitted uses outlined in the licensing agreement. These may include restrictions on geographic location, industry, or time period.
  • Restrictions: Rights-managed images typically come with more restrictions on usage than royalty-free images. Be sure to carefully read the licensing agreement to understand what is allowed.

Understanding Usage Rights

When you purchase or download a stock photo, you are typically granted certain usage rights. These rights define how you can use the image and any restrictions that may apply.

Commercial Use

Commercial use refers to using an image for any purpose that is intended to generate profit. This includes using the image in advertisements, on products for sale, or in promotional materials for a business.

Editorial Use

Editorial use refers to using an image in a newsworthy or journalistic context. This may include using the image in newspapers, magazines, blogs, or other editorial publications.

Personal Use

Personal use refers to using an image for non-commercial purposes. This may include using the image in personal projects, social media posts, or on personal websites.

Common Restrictions

Stock photo licenses often come with a variety of restrictions that dictate how you can and cannot use the image. Some common restrictions to be aware of include:

  • Resale: Most stock photo licenses prohibit you from reselling or redistributing the image in its original form.
  • Exclusive Use: Some licenses may grant you exclusive use of an image for a specified period of time, meaning that the image cannot be used by anyone else during that time.
  • Derivative Works: Creating derivative works from a stock photo, such as altering or modifying the image, may be prohibited depending on the license terms.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

As a stock photo user, it’s important to ensure that you are using images in a way that complies with copyright laws. To avoid copyright infringement, consider the following tips:

  • Read the Licensing Agreement: Always carefully read and understand the licensing agreement before using a stock photo.
  • Attribute the Photographer: If required by the license, be sure to credit the photographer when using the image.
  • Obtain Model Releases: If the image contains recognizable individuals, make sure you have the necessary model releases to use the image commercially.


Stock photo rights can be complex, but with a solid understanding of the different types of licenses and usage rights, you can confidently navigate the world of stock photography. By following the guidelines outlined in this handbook, you can ensure that you are using stock photos in a way that is compliant with copyright laws and licensing agreements.

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