March 17, 2023

The Legalities of Using Photos: A Guide to Photo Licenses

By Morkven

With the rise of social media and the ease of sharing photos on the internet, it’s essential to be aware of the legalities surrounding the use of photos. The individual who owns the photograph has the right to decide how it is used, and a failure to obtain the proper photo licenses can result in legal action. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about photo licenses and the legalities of using photos.

Photo licenses are legal agreements between the owner of the photo and the user. They dictate how a photo can be used, who can use it, and for how long. There are various types of photo licenses, each with different restrictions and permissions. Below are the four most common types of photo licenses you should be familiar with:

1. Public Domain – Public domain photos are not under any copyright restrictions, and anyone can use them freely without permission. These images are free for personal and commercial use and require no attribution. However, it’s still important to ensure that the photo is genuinely in the public domain, as some may not be.

2. Royalty-Free – Royalty-free licenses permit users to use the image without additional payment each time they use it. The user can use the image for an unlimited amount of time for any purpose, but it does not mean that the photo is free. The user must pay upfront for the right to use the image.

3. Creative Commons – Creative Commons licenses permit the use of an image for non-commercial purposes only. It also limits the way that the image can be used, such as requiring attribution or not allowing for the creation of derivative works.

4. Rights-Managed – Rights-managed licenses are the most restrictive license. They allow the user to use the image for specific purposes and for a specific period. The cost of the license is based on these factors, and the user must renew the license after the agreed period.

It’s essential to understand that simply giving credit to the photographer does not give you permission to use their photo. By using a photo you haven’t taken, you could be violating the photographer’s copyright. Permission should be strictly obtained from the owner of the photo by acquiring a license to avoid legal action.

To ensure that you are not infringing on someone’s copyright, you should always use reputable photo websites that allow you to search and use images legally. Several websites offer free and paid image options, such as iStock, Shutterstock and Pexels. These platforms hold millions of photos that are available for use under specific licenses. Most platforms provide a clear description of the type of license attached to the photo.

When obtaining a license from the owner of the photo, it’s essential to read the terms and conditions of the license agreement carefully. The terms of the agreement will vary depending on the type of license you are obtaining, and reading the terms provides you with the necessary information to use the photo correctly.

Lastly, if someone uses your photo without your permission and you wish to take legal action, the first step is to contact the user and request that they remove the image. If that doesn’t work, consider contacting a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.


The legalities surrounding the use of photos can be complicated, but it’s essential to understand your obligations as a user. Every individual who owns or captures photographs has the right to decide how the photo is used, and a failure to obtain the proper licenses can result in legal action. By following these guidelines to obtain and use photo licenses, you can avoid potential legal issues and protect your business or personal brand.