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A Guide to Using Stock Photos Correctly

OK, hands up those of us who have not at any one time in your career as a Web Master or designer not used the odd pinched photo or image ripped off from someone else’s website.

Well if we are all honest then probably all of us at any one time have possibly used an image that was either incorrectly procured or not paid for at all. Now there are two ways of looking at this. Firstly theft is theft and there is no denying this and its all very well to talk about “ah well they’re large companies and they would not miss it” but that is escaping the point. The company might well not miss the cash flow (and this in the light of recent events with companies clamping down on harder and harder on copyright theft is doubtful) but the individual photographer will.

So this last point is worth remembering. How would you feel if you were a photographer and you earned your living by taking photographs and selling the rights of the images to customers but everybody kept using your services for free and nobody showed any intention of paying?

I think we all know the answer to that question? The thing is, why run the risk of having the likes of Getty images come around and threatened to sue you because you've ripped off one of their images when there are more than enough reasonably priced photo libraries around. The real kicker is that you don't have to spend a fortune if you know where to look.

When you buy a stock photo image, you are essentially purchasing the rights to use the photograph. The limits to this license depend on the type of rights to it that you've purchased. Generally, unless it is stipulated beforehand, you are purchasing the rights to use the image once. That is, if you buy the image and use it on your website, it is understood that you cannot take the same image and print it in a brochure or on a t-shirt. You have not purchased the image outright to do with it as you will, you have only purchased the rights to use it in the manner specified in the contract.

Purchasing stock images online can make this a bit of a touchy situation, as people have a tendency to ignore Terms of Use contracts when they digitally sign something. Purchasing a stock photo online, however, is no different than doing so from a brick and mortar stock photo company. The contract is just as binding as if you had signed it with a ball point pen.

A photographer owns the copyright for his or her photograph, unless it was a "work for hire," in which case, the person or company who commissioned the photo or the stock agency would own the copyrights to the photograph. This also depends upon the contract between the photographer and the contractor. Unless you have purchased all rights to the photograph, your usage of it will be limited. The full rights will generally cost considerably more than limited rights.

Once you have purchased the perfect stock photo, however, you are free to use it as you like. Sometimes there are limitations to how it can be used, but generally you may manipulate the photo as you need to in order to get the desired image.