13 answers about legally using images

I paid for my image; does that mean I can’t be sued?

Not necessarily. Even if you license an image from a reputable supplier, copyright disputes (as well as various other disputes) can still occur.

So how can I make sure that I am covered against these potential legal disputes?

You should always consult with legal counsel for the greatest certainty. The best way is to source your image from a supplier that offers legal protection with its images. The first lines of protection are in the form of model and property releases if the image includes people, or items that are not public property. Some image providers offer additional legal protection either for free or with an additional fee attached that is basically an extension of the warranty. This provides additional peace of mind so that if a dispute arises, for example around the copyright, you should in most cases be covered.

When you license an image that comes with legal protection it offers you an umbrella of some protection around that image. For instance, if someone who claims to own the copyright of an image issues a claim against you for copyright infringement, the supplier who licensed the image to you in the first place can step in, fight the legal battle and cover the legal costs (assuming that the user is otherwise in compliance with the applicable license agreement).

Suppliers that provide legal protection in the form of model and property releases, as well as extended protection, may also have inspection processes in place for the images that they offer.

Are there any other words or phrases that mean the same thing as ‘legal protection?’

Yes, ‘indemnification’ is commonly understood as a legal concept that means essentially the same thing as legal protection – this is how it may be described in your license agreement. Certain image providers may also have different names for the legal protection that they offer, for example some agencies call it a legal guarantee.

What does indemnification mean in legal terms?

The legal concept of indemnification (more commonly referred to as legal protection) is generally understood to mean that one party agrees to bear the liability and assume the costs relating to certain legal claims. In license agreements that include indemnification, the supplier of the imagery often assumes liability for certain kinds of claims and costs, depending on the type of image.

So how does legal protection work in practice?

If a customer receives a claim, they notify the supplier, who will pick up handling the claim from then on (provided it is a claim that they cover as part of the legal protection agreement). The specifics of what and how this will be done may vary depending on the supplier but are often detailed in the legal protection agreement.

Which suppliers of imagery offer legal protection?

Various companies offer varying degrees of legal protection.

It is best to check the license agreement thoroughly before you agree to buy, and to go with a supplier that offers legal protection in situations where you require more peace of mind.

What sort of disputes might arise after I have legally licensed an image?

Disputes can still arise even after you have legally licensed an image from a reputable supplier. One potential source of dispute is from individuals depicted in the image. All models have rights of publicity and privacy.

The rights of publicity protect them against the commercial use of their name, voice, likeness, or persona without their permission. The right of privacy protects against the disclosure of private facts and false portrayal of someone in an offensive manner. Models depicted in stock images should be asked to sign a model release which provides permission for their image to be used commercially. Reputable suppliers of imagery should have model releases in place for applicable stock images, protecting both the supplier and its customers against claims of invasion of privacy or publicity. There are instances though, when someone will claim they are the person depicted in the image and that they did not sign a model release. This means that whoever used the images may be liable for the legal costs of defending against the claim, unless the image is covered by legal protection.

Do all types of images come with a model release?

No. It is always best to check and the supplier should indicate on its website, or in the license agreement, whether a model release is available for each image.

What if I want to use an unreleased image for a commercial purpose?

Some stock agencies have rights and clearance services that can sometimes arrange special permission for certain uses, but these are typically done on a case by case basis.

Are model and property releases required for editorial use of images?

Generally speaking, model and property releases are required for commercial use of images (e.g. any advertising, promotional or marketing use) but not for editorial use (e.g. use in a news report).

What about trademarked items in the image? Can I be sued by the owners of the trademarks?

Yes, in the same way you need a model release to cover people depicted in an image, you may also need a property release to cover trademarks in an image. A trademark can be a word, a symbol, or a shape, that is used as a product or service brand to distinguish one’s goods or services from the goods and services of others. So for example, there could be an image of a model carrying a bike which has a trademark appearing on it, and a property release may need to be in place for that trademark.

Similar to model releases, reputable suppliers should have property releases in place for their applicable images when necessary. There are cases where a property release is not necessary. For authentic clips of a street scene, it may not be practical or required to get a property release from each storefront or billboard depicted. It is always best to check if the image has a property release in place and whether this affects the legal protection provided with that image.

So, aside from trademarked items, do I need to be wary of any other items appearing in the image?

Yes. Artistic works, such as paintings and sculptures appearing in an image are protected by copyright laws. Also, copyright laws in some countries protect images of unique architectural works or buildings. In addition, some images of buildings are actually registered trademarks such as the Sydney Opera House.

A property release gives consent to use the image of a copyrighted artistic work and also protects against claims of infringement of copyright or trademark for buildings depicted in an image.

It is always best to check if a property release is in place. If a property release is not in place it could mean that legal protection is not offered on that particular image.

Are there any reasons why legal protection might not be granted if a claim arises?

Usually certain conditions need to be met for the supplier to provide legal protection to a customer if a claim arises. These will be laid out in the terms and conditions of the supplier’s license agreement. For example, the customer may need to notify the supplier of the claim within a certain timeframe and customers must be in compliance with the terms of the license agreement for the legal protection to be offered.

Supported by Stockphotorights:

Licensing stock images can be a complicated business. Whether you need an image for an advertising campaign, a company presentation or for your personal blog, you should know the legal ins and outs before you agree to license it. Stockphotorights.com is a helpful resource for information on image licensing. It aims to unravel the complexities, expose the pitfalls and provide image buyers with the knowledge they need to license an image with confidence. This site is not, however, a substitute for advice from your own legal counsel.

Stockphotorights.com has been set up by Getty Images for the benefit of the photographic industry and its customers, with the support of BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) and PACA (Picture Archive Council of America).

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses