The internet has made it incredibly easy to access millions of images. But you can’t just download what you want from the web, and use it whenever you feel like it.
Even if someone has uploaded an image to social media, or a photo sharing site like Flickr, they still retain ownership of that image, unless explicitly stated otherwise. And so if you use an image in your design work without obtaining permission, they may take legal action against you.
This is no idle threat. Pixsy - just one company active in this area - has worked more than 70,000 copyright infringement cases since its launch in 2014.
For that reason, a number of “free” image sharing sites have sprung up in recent years. But be warned: legal dangers apply here, too.
The dangers of image sharing sites
Even where a website appears to offer images for free, you have to be careful. For example, photographer Simon Palmer was recently threatened with legal action for using a photo he downloaded from Unsplash.
Unsplash describes itself as “the internet’s source of freely useable images”. However, a closer read of its terms and conditions state that this doesn’t cover images of people “if they are recognizable in the Photos”, which was the case for this particular image. (You can read the full details of the case here (opens in new tab)).
Even if pictures from free image sites don’t contain people, there can be problems. Whether mistakenly or maliciously, people often upload images to free photo sharing sites that they don’t own. And so even if they add a Creative Commons notice to it, that doesn’t protect you, because it’s not theirs to grant!
There’s also the practice of “copyright trolling”, whereby unscrupulous people who do own an image upload it to a free sharing site, wait for people to download and use it, then remove it from the site and claim that copyright has been infringed.
The stock alternative
Given the high costs involved in dealing with such legal headaches, it’s clearly a false economy to spend time and effort hunting for free images on the web. After all, Adobe Stock offers millions of high-quality curated and royalty-free photos, videos, illustrations, vector graphics, 3D assets, and templates for use in your creative projects.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, a royalty-free asset is licensed such that it can be used for any illustrative purpose, even in a professional context, without geographical restrictions or expiration dates.
That said, there are still a few things to bear in mind to ensure you stay on the right side of the law.
01. Model images can’t be used in an offensive way
Adobe Stock advises that if an image features a model, it must not be used in a manner that the models could perceive as offensive.
For example, it says: “Avoid using images with models on the cover of a steamy romance novel, or a book about politics or religion."
This is really a question of common sense. Ask yourself: if you were the model in question, what objections might you feasibly have to being portrayed in this way? And if you can’t think of anything, it may be worth asking friends or colleagues too, just to get a second opinion.
02. Stock images can’t be used for logos
This is the big one for designers to bear in mind: you can't use Adobe Stock images as part of a logo, trademark, or company identity.
Why? Because importantly, Adobe Stock’s licence grants you the right to use images under certain conditions, but they don’t transfer the copyright of these images to you; that remains with the creators.
Typically, though, a business will be considered to own the copyright to its own logo and trademark. For this reason, Adobe Stock, or indeed any stock imagery, should not be used to create it. A simple rule, with no exceptions.
03. Different licences come with different restrictions
It's important to remember that not every Adobe Stock image is available for commercial use.
For example, assets labelled "Editorial Use Only" (such as the one shown above) are for use in news and events-related articles, blogs, film and broadcasts.
You may, for example, want to use a press photograph of a real-life riot on the cover of a fictional novel about a similar event. However, if that photo is marked "Editorial Use Only", you simply cannot do so.
You can check out all the different types of licences here (opens in new tab), and you can view the type of license associated with an image on the image preview page, in your web browser.
04. You're good for half a million views
A standard Adobe Stock licence (opens in new tab) covers you for up to 500,000 copies or views of the asset in question.
For instance, you can use an image on a book cover as long as allowed if the print run is fewer than 500,000 copies. If you’re going to print more than that, you need to choose a different type of licence.
However, note that with a standard Adobe Stock licence, web views specifically are unlimited. So if your design is for a website or a social media campaign, you don’t need to worry.
There are a small number of legal issues to pay attention to when it comes to using Adobe Stock in your designs. But once you’ve taken those into account, you really have nothing to worry about.
With Adobe Stock (opens in new tab), you can be sure that all images have been sourced properly and the copyright owners have allowed the assets to be used in the manner specified by the licence.
So as long as you follow the simple guidelines above, you can sleep easy at night, knowing you’re safe from any form of legal action relating to image use.