Licensing Stock Images – Read the fine print

Using royalty-free stock photography is common in eLearning. You must read the fine print, however, and use caution to ensure you do not violate the licensing terms and expose yourself and your company to potential litigation. The following are just a few of the critical restrictions for some of the most popular stock photography sites:

  1. While standard license photos are comparatively inexpensive, there is a “Seat Restriction” that specifically says you may not copy or send the file to anyone else, including your clients, other people in your company, etc. According to these licensing terms, you may not even send an image within course source files (PowerPoint, Captivate, Storyline, etc.) since the terms specifically say “…provided that such parties…cannot access or extract it from any file you provide.” Since it’s easy to extract an istock-licensed image from Captivate source files (for example), you are prohibited from transferring the source files to your clients.
  2. According to Big Stock, the phrase “Non Transferrable” means that “…you may not sell, rent, load, give, sublicense, or otherwise transfer to anyone, the Image or the right to use the Image.”
  3. Shutterstock’s licensing language is nearly identical to that of So while you may purchase a monthly subscription to Shutterstock, all members of your team who use images downloaded through your account must have their own ShutterStock account and download the images for themselves. The website also includes an email address that “whistle blowers” can use to email them if they become aware that someone else has violated the Shutterstock terms.

Suggestions (written by a non-attorney eLearning developer and not intended as legal advice):

  • Buy “Extended” licenses that include multi-seat options (most expensive route)
  • Buy one Standard License for yourself and ensure that anyone to whom you are required to supply (less expensive option)
  • Use temporary “watermark” images as placeholders. Supply your client (or whoever will take the files from you) with a contact sheet mapping the watermark images to the URL to which the file can be found and purchased. The purchaser can then swap out the temporary files with the final licensed files. Be sure that this approach does not violate any other terms of the website.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of restrictions commonly included in stock licensing agreements. Be sure to read all licenses carefully and ensure you abide by them. People are accustomed to simply clicking “I agree” when presented with a lot of technical legal language and often may not be aware of the tricky legal situations and risk to which they can be exposed. So use caution and be sure you understand the licensing terms to which you and your company are subject. Additionally, if you are a vendor who supplies clients with eLearning that includes stock imagery, be sure to include a detailed list of the stock imagery you used and the licensing terms to which your client may be subject.

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