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Why You Should License Your Imagery in any Medium!

By Patrick Sesko

Why you should license your imagery

Almost every business uses images to promote their brand. Either in a blog post, a website, or any printed collateral.

It can bring life and context to a project. It can emote a certain feeling or memory. It can help you connect with your audience. Imagery is powerful for sure! In fact, the image above is licensed from a stock agency, with a little added manipulation by me.

Many businesses find images online via Google search, and others, and use them at will. But here’s the thing. Contrary to what many believe, just because you find an image on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it is free to use! Repeat that last sentence and remember it because it can potentially save you thousands of dollars and legal headaches.

As a designer, the requirement to license imagery is a no brainer. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just part of what I do. But I was reminded recently that people outside my industry need to be educated or at least be reminded of the risks associated with using unlicensed imagery. This especially goes for the DIY types.

The following incident is what inspired me to write this post:

A fellow member of a business group was using unlicensed imagery on one of her blog posts and it turned out that the agency the image was taken from found out and issued a cease and desist notice as well as issuing several thousands of dollars in infringement fines—even though the images were only $50 to license to begin with. So understand that even the big stock agencies are trolling the Internet seeking out unauthorized use—especially with the advent of Google reverse image search.

So where do you get your images from?

Many small businesses are bootstrapped and can’t afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to license an image. Mind you, the higher end stock agencies have their place, but for a small business trying to make ends meet, these options are a great alternative, and in many cases just as good as the higher-end stock agencies.

Here are a few places you can get imagery to use on your site or printed material for little or no cost to you.

Take your own photos – Free
With higher end digital cameras readily available, and decent cameras on our phones, it’s easier than ever to take your own photos. Use your imagination. You can take pictures of nature, or images of surfaces for textures. The possibilities are endless. I do this often and use them in my design projects. If this doesn’t work for you or you need a particular subject matter, there are other options

Flickr – Creative Commons – Free with attribution
Go to and search their creative commons library for the particular subject matter that you are looking for. Creative commons refers to the licensing category of the selected imagery. Usually, the only thing you need to do is credit the photographer but make sure for each photo you choose to use. Check out Flickr’s creative commons licensing information here. One thing to be careful for here: There is nothing stopping a Flickr user to grab an unlicensed image, and pass it off as his own. So do your research and make sure that the image is legitimately theirs.

Royalty free stock photography sites. – as little as a few dollars per image, depending on size and use.
There are a ton of these stock sites (many of which are actually owned by the larger stock agencies) Most of these run on a credit-based system where you buy a quantity of credits and use them as you need them. The more credits you buy, the cheaper the credits get. Some images cost more than others, so do a decent search to find what you are looking for.

NOTE: Royalty free means just that. You don’t pay royalties for each use, just for the initial purchase. Because anyone can purchase the same image, you run the risk of someone else—possibly your competition—using the same image in their materials (don’t laugh…I’ve seen it happen several times). You can use these images for whatever you wish (there are some stipulations for logo and package use – read the royalty free licensing agreement from the site you purchase from.)

Here are a few (of many)  that I often use:

Don’t make the same mistake my colleague did. Make sure you license your imagery and you won’t have any legal issues to worry about. It will save you money and lots of hassle if you just make the minimal investment up front.

Do you have a question? Leave a comment and I’ll answer it!

6 thoughts on “Why You Should License Your Imagery in any Medium!

    1. Thanks for the question. That is a tough one to answer honestly because in a lot of cases you may not be able to know for sure. Specifically on Flickr, look at the photographer’s stream of images. Is the image a part of a series that have a similar look and feel. If so there is a good chance it theirs. You can also try using the google reverse image search to see where that image pops up. If it pops up on a stock site, you should probably stay away from it. For commercial work, I tend to stay away from Flickr Images unless I can surely know it is an original image. The images may be free to use, but the price you pay comes in the time spent researching. Otherwise, I usually go for a paid image. I hope that answers your question.

      1. Thank you 🙂

        So far I’ve used free photos for my website and I try to be super careful to use photos I have rights to, but as you say there may be a fine line between what you think you can use and what you actually can.

  1. Patrick,

    Thanks for shining a light on this subject.

    For those of us who make a living doing photography, the residual sales that can be made by licensing our images often pays the bills and when others use the images without paying and often within credit, it affects our livelihood.

    Thanks for giving business owners valid options for using images in their marketing.


    1. Thanks Lois. Yes, One thing I didn’t touch on was the fact that the Photographers also lose out on the royalties. That’s a subject for an entire post alone. I always tell people to put them selves in the photographers/artist’s shoes. Would you like it if people stole your services/intellectual property resulting in lost revenues?

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