Video: What You Need To Know About Using Purchased Vector Art

(Last updated Jan. 9, 2019)

Today’s video is about stock photography rights and common misunderstandings – do you have a hard-earned lesson to share?


What You Need to Know About Purchased Vector Art & Photographs. Can You Use Stock Artwork in Logos?

Hi, my name is Carrie Morgan and this is today’s blog episode for video. I hope you enjoy it.

I found a great topic that I have not covered in a long time, so I’d like to talk about stock photography and what you can use it for, and what uses require different types of licensing. Some of the stock photography sites that I like to use quite a bit are DepositPhotos, Canva (templates and photos), Unsplash (free), Pixabay  and Shutterstock.

There are a lot of things related to stock photography that people are not aware of. Can you use it in a syndicated blog post or more than one post? Can you use it in a magazine? Is it okay to buy a vector image that I like and use part of it in a logo?

So let us cover this topic one at a time.

Use of Purchased Vector Art in Logos

Let us start with logos, because I am in the middle of a logo project right now. It is a little bit top-of-mind and I am surprised by some of the questions that the graphic designer that I am working with is asking me. She e-mailed me today and asked if I could provide her with some vector art in this logo design or access to my stock photography accounts.

It is a great topic because most people don’t look at the licensing rights that come with the photography or stock art purchase to make sure that you’re buying the right license, and that your are using that piece of stock photography/illustration/video/music in a way that is acceptable from the vendor you purchased it from.

If you don’t, you can have some severe legal penalties that pop up  as VERY nasty surprises. We do not like those!

As far as logos go, most licensing agreements will NOT let you use a stock purchase of any kind in a logo or anything that is trademarked. Because the person that created the original piece of artwork owns the rights and your purchase is packaged with very specific usage rights. That photography site or the place you are purchasing this piece of artwork from has specific requirements as to what you can do and cannot do with it. Anything that is able to be trademarked requires that you own the legal rights to it – it belongs to you and you can do whatever you want with it. That is not the case with stock purchases.

When you buy a piece of stock artwork, you are getting a very limited amount of rights with that, and oftentimes it is for a single use, a single piece of content. So when you buy that photography, take a look at the agreement that you’re getting and make sure that is the right one.

Commercial Rights

iStockPhotos provides a great example of a common licensing rights agreement similar to other stock photography providers, stating that you cannot use the purchase in a logo or trademark… and Deposit Photos licensing agreement also prohibits it. It’s common for stock photography sites to not allow use for anything that will be trademarked.

You can use it for commercial purposes, but there’s a different license for that called “extended license” versus their standard license, and the cost of the image and its associated licensing rights might vary by the specific use of the image.

The standard license for most stock purchases include use in a piece of collateral or blog post. That is just the normal licensing right that comes along with that purchase.

But if you are using it in a book, for example, a website theme, a record album cover, a poster, a t-shirt or something that is for commercial sale, it’s a completely different license because you’re making a commercial profit directly selling it. The license is often much more expensive. The licensing also may include a maximum number of impressions and or items sold, going up to another license level yet again to make sure the artist who created that photograph, video or illustration is earning a fair market share of what the piece is worth BASED ON YOUR USE AND PROFIT.

Blogging Use

Blogs are fine for standard license, but purchasing an image often includes one use, not the right to use that purchased image wherever you like. For example, if you purchase an image for a blog post, you must pay for that image a second time to use it in an Instagram post, and again for a Facebook post IF it’s not promoting the same blog post the image was originally used for. If you embed it in the blog and it appears in the snippets every time you share that blog post, of course you’re fine. If you use it in the blog post, then in a brochure, then again for a website landing page and a Facebook ad, you would need to purchase that image four separate times for the license that accompanies each purchase.

But what about syndicate content? This is a question that I’ve emailed stock photography providers to clarify. What if I use a piece of purchased stock photography in a blog post, and that blog post is syndicated out to multiple sources? Was I responsible for that? Does that change the licensing rights that come along with that photo? The original licensing is fine in this situation, as long as the image was originally on the blog post for the person that purchased it. Syndication was acceptable. It is just part and parcel of the same thing. They’re not going to come after you for additional licensing in that situation.

Purchased or Syndicated Blog Content

Another example is syndicated content purchased for use on a blog, such as Next Avenue. They sell their blogs posts to healthcare companies under the guise of “content marketing” as a part of their revenue. Because they are directly selling it, their use would require different licensing rights for their stock photography purchases – they would require a commercial license for each image they run on their blog posts. It is their responsibility, but yet anyone purchasing syndicated content should always confirm the image licensing rights with the provider (in writing), so they are protecting themselves from legal danger.

Intellectual property infringement and copyright legal actions are becoming more and more common every day, so it’s not worth taking a risk when images are so inexpensive.

If you’re EVER not sure, you can reach out to the original source of the stock photography and confirm your licensing rights to protect yourself, or find  the licensing information on their website. If unsure, don’t use it.

We don’t like lawsuits! Avoid them!!!

Purchased Logos & Icons 

You want to be very careful, but the logo question is especially interesting with the volume of crowdsourced design resources popping up on the cloud. There is a reason they are cheap; some are grabbing free icons online, then turning around and selling it back to you. They are using stock illustrations in your logo – it is not custom work. If this happens, you are not protected. Just because you bought it in good faith from that graphic designer doesn’t mean that person who created the original artwork cannot come directly after you for legal damages.

Several years ago, I had an experience recently on Fiverr where I purchased a quick icon design for five dollars for a client. I just needed a very simple icon drawn and I stated in the gig when I purchased it to make sure that it was something original. I wanted to use it on my website.

They sent me something that look good, but when I did a quick image search, I found an exact same icon as part of a free icon download. I circled back to that person and said it was unacceptable. They sold me free downloadable artwork! It did not include a creative common license permitting the use that I wanted, so I couldn’t use the icon. I tried FOUR different designers on the Fiverr website, ending up with the same thing each time. I ended up using Canva to purchase and edit the icon myself, and lost four hours of my workday in the process.

Even experienced graphic designers may not be providing custom work, or they may be violating a licensing agreement in the creative they provide. For example, if they include a specific image in multiple items, they may not be aware the licensing is an issue. Ask.

So that is something to protect yourself from, and just because you’re using a graphic designer that has wonderful quality work and maybe you have worked with them before DOES NOT mean that they’re experienced in licensing and understanding its nuances.

If there is ever any doubt, always do what is necessary to protect yourself because they may or may not know, and you cannot assume they do. That they aren’t selling you something that’s repurposed and just pulled from a piece of vector art. So really, protect yourself.

Editorial Use of Stock Photography

Another licensing right  that is important in the public relations field is the use of logo images that are trademarked by the company or brand that logo represents. If you are on a stock photography site and maybe you are searching for an image with a logo in it (such as a can of Coca Cola) or some kind of photo related to a trademarked brand or celebrity, you’ll notice that the image includes a notice stating “Editorial Use Only.”

This means the image has very specific requirements for a photo credit that must accompany any use of that image, and it’s typically prohibited from use for anything that is not editorial. iStock, for example, requires the image credit to include a copyright symbol and the specific account name of the iStock purchaser – but everybody’s different. When an image states “for editorial use only” means you can purchase the image and use it with the appropriate image credit in the newspaper, your blog or any other editorial source. You cannot use it for anything commercial because it belongs to the company that owns the trademark.

General Tips

No matter how you are using a piece of purchased stock imagery, you have to be careful to make sure that you are abiding by whatever licensing and credit requirements they require. Not following their requirements puts  yourself in danger of a very expensive lawsuit.

Just be careful – protect yourself and read that licensing agreement.

There are a couple of places you can usually find it on the stock photography sites. Sometimes it’s on the footer. It is going to say something like “licensing rights, ” “licensing information,” or “terms of use.” If you’re pulling something off a free site or maybe something like Flickr or creative commons, FIND THE LICENSING RIGHTS and follow them. If it doesn’t have licensing rights clearly stated – don’t use it! Just becuase it can be downloaded for free does not mean it’s legal.

It’s not just the paid sites where you buy stock photography or illustration video or music. The freebie sites usually have some kind of disclaimer and rights agreement on there, too. You just want to make sure that you abide by those and that you understand what they are. It’s very important.