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Stock Photography Legal FAQs (Types, Releases and Licenses)

Stock Photography (Legal FAQ)

When taking and selling your photos online, some Stock Photography Legal Questions will arise:

  • Can I sell this image on Stock Photo Sites?
  • Do I need a Model Release?
  • Do I need a Property Release?
  • Under which License Type can I sell my Images Online?

Brand Names, Showcasing Logos, Likeness

Brand names, logos, and likeness are the major reason why your images can be rejected.

If you inadvertently missed a brand name or a logo this would actually be considered as a potential misuse of the same. Such images, however, can be used as editorial content.

Can I sell Images with Brands?

The short answer is: Yes and No!

Let’s say you are photographing at the Photokina and you take images at various brand stalls and, along with the products, you also capture the brand name and logo. Later these images were uploaded to a microstock website.

Related Post: How to Sell Stock Photos Online & Earn Money

Can you sell images with Logos? Yes, but only for Editorial use.
Editorial use only: Selling & Using Images with Brand Logos and People like this one is possible, but only for Editorial Use (Not Commercial). | Editorial Credit: Sorbis / Shutterstock.com

What are “Editorial Images”?

Editorial imagery refers to those images which are shot at a public event, a conclave of minds, war, and assembly, any place public or other events of public interest. For example, if images are shot by a war photographer of a conflict going on in some place these would qualify as editorial images. Similarly, images shot of a natural disaster, a public show of dissent, an anti-government rally, a sporting event would also qualify as editorial images.

Images with brand names or logos can only be used for editorial reasons, provided certain other parameters are fulfilled (e.g. in some cases the user of the image has to give editorial credit). However, these images cannot be used for commercial purposes because they would tantamount to misusing the brand name (for example PhotoWorkout cannot use the above image for an ad campaign or print brochure advertising services). The same goes for the use of brand names in the keyword.

In some cases, if newspapers, magazine, etc. having a very high circulation, editorial images may be attracting a higher fee (in the case of Shutterstock.com this could be $99 for an editorial print run with circulation over 500,000).

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Model & Property Releases

What is a Model Release?

As a photographer shooting stock you will come to hear about releases and more specifically model and property releases. What are these and how do they impact you and your work?

A model release is a legal agreement between you, the photographer, and the model.

The model of your photograph may or may not be a willing individual; someone who you met before and s/he agreed to be photographed in a manner befitting your requirements. S/he could be a passerby who happened to be in your image either accidentally or intentionally.

Commercial vs. Editorial

There are two types of imagery that are licensed on most stock websites: Commercial and Editorial.

  1. Commercial Licenses allow an image to be modified and used in any way deemed necessary except for anything that has been specifically mentioned otherwise.
  2. An image released for Editorial Use denotes it is specifically prohibited for any commercial uses, for advertising or branding or for representing any topics that may be both controversial and against the policies of the micro-stock website it has been licensed from.

The requirement of the model release comes into the equation when you are ready to upload the image to a stock photo site. They are important because they establish that the person being photographed has agreed to be photographed and his/her likeness to be used in some form of commercial use. This also comes from privacy laws which more or less are standard across most countries.
You cannot use the image or likeness of a person to advertise something without the specific permission of that person.
Different countries have different notations about personal privacy. But by and large, the privacy bit is pretty uniform. The model release proves that there is an agreement in place between the two parties to be being photographed and the images used for commercial purposes.

Model Release: A Legal Document

A standard model release is a legally enforceable document that passes all rights to the images from the model to the photographer and also passes on the right to modify any images that s/he appears in during the shoot.

The document has to be signed by both parties and then by a witness. This legal document thus assumes critical importance for commercial licensing of an image. There are many Model Release form available on the Internet (e.g. Simplified Model Release from the American Society of Photographers). If you don’t like to deal with paper too much, there are now plenty of apps available with Model and Property Release forms you can fill and get signed using your tablet.

You can download and print a model release format here. There are also apps for your mobile devices, which can manage the process of drafting and signing model releases easier. For example, have a look at “Easy Release“.

What is a Property Release?

Property release, just like a model release, absolves the rights of the owner of the property. Images of certain properties, monuments, and architecture cannot be licensed without the prior written permission of the society or organization that is in charge of it. Thus, each micro-stock website tends to have lists that contain names of all architectures that they cannot accept imagery of. E.g., the images of the Eiffel Tower shot at evening and depicting its lighting design are unaccepted by Shutterstock (because the French Government has protected the light installation).

Eiffel Tower during Day can be sold on Shutterstock. The same Property requires a release when shot at night (or can only be sold as editorial image).
A Picture of the Eiffel Tower during Day can be sold on Shutterstock. The same Property requires a release when shot at night (or can only be sold as an editorial image).

Images of certain properties, monuments, and architecture cannot be licensed without the prior written permission of the society or organization that is in charge of it. Thus, each micro-stock website tends to have lists that contain names of all architectures that they cannot accept imagery of. One such detailed explanation property releases and when you need them can be found on this Adobe page.

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Stock Images: Royalty Free vs. Rights Managed

Understanding the types of stock photography is an important learning step. Each has different licensing parameters and compliance requirements from the photographer.

1. What are “Royalty Free” Images (Rights-Free Images)?

Rights-free images denote images that are free to be downloaded from a micro-stock website and used in any form deemed fit by the buyer. These images, however, have a non-exclusivity clause and usually does not have a time limit for use.

Rights-free images typically attract small businesses especially those which cater to a local audience. These businesses don’t need expensive imagery which the rights-managed option can be.

What are “Non-Exclusive” Images?

Non-Exclusive denotes that the images are not bound by any exclusivity contract. Thus, an image buyer is likely to find the same image on more than one micro-stock website. This is the arrangement under which all new stock photographers begin work. Non-exclusive images have a low starting price. Commission shared with stock photographers is also lower.

2. What are “Rights Managed” Images?

Rights-managed incorporates an exclusivity clause. These images are licensed based on a number of parameters, including but not limited to the type of use, geographical area, the number of print copies for the run and timeframe. These images are, however, not fit for unlimited usage.

More well-known brands with a global reach and higher budget go for exclusive imagery. They typically opt for images which are rights-managed and have a high degree of exclusivity.

With the rights-managed clause, you as a photographer have a far greater control over how your images are going to be used. You can select to limit the usage to specific genres, the geographical territory, timeframe, and or the number of print runs or online impressions and get a higher licensing share based on usage rather than letting buyers use your images non-exclusively for eternity against a small licensing fee.

What are “Exclusive” Images?

Exclusive images are governed by an agreement of exclusivity. In plain English, this means the images which are tagged as exclusive are available only on a single microstock website on the Internet—the one where they have been uploaded to.

Let’s say John uploads 10 images to Shutterstock.com under an exclusive agreement. This means the images cannot be uploaded to another micro-stock website unless John withdraws them from Shutterstock.com or changes them to non-exclusive.

Exclusive images carry a higher price tag, and they offer a degree of uniqueness that larger brands look for. The share of the commission given to the photographer is also higher.

Related Post: Example of Stock Photos (with Downloads & Estimated Earnings)

We hope these Stock Photography Legal Frequently Asked Questions & Answers helped you. If you haven’t found the answer you were looking for please leave a comment below.


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