It’s no secret that people are visually driven creatures, hence why social media platforms like Instagram are a booming business. While user generated images and videos are always popular, business accounts also rely on using stock photos as filler content.

However, there’s always a gray area when it comes to purchasing and using stock photos. Buying a stock photo doesn’t always mean you’re absolutely free to do whatever you want with it. Free photos doesn’t always mean that it’s free for any type of usage, either. That being said, the source where you got your photo from is also important to avoid any legal issues. Confused? Let me break it down for you. Did you get your photo from…

Google Images

Social Media: Skip The Legal Drama With Stock Photos - 123RF Blog
This photo is filed under Editorial License because it carries 2 major tech brands in it – the Apple iPad, and Google.

Yikes, please don’t turn to Google for your images! Major red flag right here. See, Google is a search engine. When you search for photos of oranges, Google displays relevant images from all over the Internet. And usually, those relevant images belong to someone, which means they’re copyrighted. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photo of oranges from someone’s Instagram or Facebook. Using those photos on your social media without the owner’s permission is infringing the rights to someone else’s creative work. Choose stock photos instead for more peace of mind.

If you’ve been getting your photos off Google, this is where you need to think twice. What’s okay to pin on Pinterest? What’s not cool to re-upload to Instagram? Is suffering potential backlash of retweeting that copyright photo worth it? Now, if you want to avoid all of that, let’s talk about…

Commercial Images

What sets this category apart from editorial photos are the rights of usage, such as a royalty free license. Royalty free stock photos allow you to use them indefinitely for a set of specified intended usages. If the photo’s license type doesn’t list the types of usage you’re aiming for, you could consider other photo licenses. Download our free ebook to learn more about the types of stock photo licenses.

Social Media: Skip The Legal Drama With Stock Photos - 123RF Blog
Once you’ve purchased this image under a commercial license, you can add your logo or design onto the t-shirt, or around the model. You can even extract the model and change the background, edit the color of his skin, the color of his clothes and many more.
Social Media: Skip The Legal Drama With Stock Photos - 123RF Blog
Likewise, you can use commercial licensed stock photos for anything – your fashion brand, a phone service, communication advert, and many more.

If you’ve purchased a commercial stock photo, you’re free to retouch and reproduce the image within the rights of usage. Stock photos were created for the sole purpose of advertising products or services, and as a tool for brand awareness. Anything ranging from photography of food, automobiles, news and journalism, sports, education and more fall under the commercial license. For example, a journalist would be able to use all of these commercial photography for the creation of newsworthy articles.

Editorial Images

When you see an image marked as editorial in a stock photo library, these photos have restricted reproduction rights. That means you can’t start selling a t-shirt with a print of Brad Pitt from the Grammy Awards without getting sued. It doesn’t mean these photos are exclusive – far from it. You’ll still see Brad Pitt’s face in news portals, celebrity gossip blogs and other journalism mediums under the editorial license.

Social Media: Skip The Legal Drama With Stock Photos - 123RF Blog

The editorial license doesn’t just encompass celebrities or other high profile figures, but also major events and dangerous situations. These involve a photographer being in a possibly life-threatening situation to capture the real scenes of what’s actually going on. Some current real world examples would be the street protests, terrorist acts and disaster relief all over the globe.

Retail Images

These images are considered absolutely okay for you to use because you’ve hired a photographer to capture them for you. In short, you’re commissioning a photographer to grant you a certain amount of personal use for the photos taken.

These are for photo categories like professional wedding shots, your brand’s products, family portraits, or personal events. Reproducing these photos or sharing these types of photos on social media shouldn’t give you any licensing problems.

Looking for more social media topics? Explore how to build your brand’s social media using authentic photos, and 5 tips on choosing great shots for LinkedIn.