What Is Image Licensing and Why Does It Matter?


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1029214: Captain Scott Antarctic Expedition. Ponting using a camera. - 1911
1029214: TopFoto

Are you working on a commercial project and wondering about what pictures to use? Maybe you’re using images found on Google as placeholder photos for now. Have you considered image licensing?

You may not think that image licensing is an important aspect of your project, but get it wrong, and you might be forced to pay big. Can you afford to pay potentially thousands of pounds for every image that you use in an incorrect context, regardless of having a license?

If you want to make sure that you have permission to use the photos you want, you must understand image licensing.

We’ll explain all about image copyright, why you need a specific license, and what happens if you don’t get one. Read on!

What Is Image Copyright?

Creative commons license images may seem like an attractive idea, but do you trust the source, or could the image actually be covered by copyright?

It’s not always just the photographer who needs to assign permission for an image’s common license. That’s why a reputable image licensing library has a research team to guide you on property and model releases, as well as other clearance restrictions that may not be obvious.

Whether an image is an illustration or a photograph, in general, it will have copyright protection as a work of art. Permission is required from the copyright holder if the image is to be used or shared, whether commercial or non-commercial.

There are one or two exceptions, such as an image being used for private study, or if the copyright has expired. The problem is that it can be very hard to know if an image truly is in the public domain.

After the creator of an image dies in the UK, the copyright length is in effect for another 70 years. For this reason, it is safe to assume that an image less than 70 years old is still within its copyright period. It might be harder to work out the date of older images, or if and when the creator died.

Different rules apply to pictures taken before 1989. Multiple parties may hold the copyright, such as with illustrations worked on by several artists. If an image also includes a second image within, additional copyright may be held, unless the use is incidental.

Why Do You Need to License an Image?

Whether you acquire a Getty Images license or find the image that works with us, the terms and conditions of use will give you a clue as to why you need a license.

Some image creators assign their copyright permissions to an image library, which is likely to often be the case for photos with significant interest. The use of these images will have restrictions, set out by the image library contract, as opposed to general copyright law. The specified length and conditions of the contract are usually granted as a license, in exchange for a fee.

By agreeing to a contract with an image library, you can license the image you need and eliminate the risk of otherwise unknown legal consequences. The contract sets out who can use the content and how, along with any restrictions that are in place.

The main benefit of clearing photos through an image library is not having to chase permissions from copyright holders who may be hard to track down. The image library is also knowledgeable about permissions required for various intended uses, so the process is simplified and quicker.

What Kind of License Do I Need?

The type of license that you need will depend on a variety of factors. Art image licensing will have its unique conditions, for instance, that will likely be heavily influenced by the artist.

A licensing agreement is just a legal document that sets out the scope of usage. When working with a top-tier image library, all of the variations will have been thought up in advance and covered by certain payment thresholds.

Key information that will be required for a licensing agreement might include:

  • Name or identification of licensed image
  • Intended use of image
  • The geographical region where the image will be in use
  • Time scale allowed to use the licensed image
  • Quantity of copies required
  • Money owed to the licensor in exchange for the license
  • Name of licensee

There’s no need to use risky license-free images, especially with our attractive price deals for high usage. Browse our curated groups, or search our image archives and find the photo that works for your project.

What If I Use an Unlicensed Image?

You certainly don’t want to roll the dice and hope for the best. If you search online, you’ll find countless horror stories of individuals and companies facing enormous fines and legal fees.

What’s more, if you reproduce an image without permission that has a valid copyright claim, a court can order an injunction. Not only will you be on the hook for financial damages, but you’ll also have to cease using the unlicensed image.

This could be a costly nightmarish scenario for a film that has already had its release, or a book that is now in distribution. The court may order you to destroy all physical media that carry copies of the infringed image. In addition to your legal fees, you may also have to cover a percentage of the winning claimant’s costs too.

Intentional commercial infringement may also be subject to criminal proceedings. ‘Moral rights” are another aspect that needs consideration in regards to certain image usage. To cover your back and eliminate the headache of red-tape and uncertainty, use a professional image library to source photos for your future projects.

Image Licensing

We’ve shown that correct image licensing is essential to protect your commercial productions. Don’t let a permission loophole put your entire project in legal jeopardy.

If you’re an art buyer in book publishing, a video documentary film maker, or a digital/textbook education provider, we can help. We license rare and classic photographs globally. You’ll find that our image works, whether it’s from our exclusive collections, unseen content, or industry-leading in-house search service.

Contact us today for further enquiries or requests.


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