March 16, 2023

Understanding the Different Types of Photo Licenses

By Morkven

Photography has the ability to inspire, excite and move people in ways that few other mediums can. Thanks to the digital revolution, anyone with a camera-equipped smartphone or a professional camera can capture stunning images. But with the rise of user-generated content and the growing need for high-quality visuals, it’s essential to understand the different types of photo licenses out there. Whether you’re a professional photographer looking to monetize your work, or simply need to ensure that you’re using images legally, this article will help you understand the various types of photo licenses.

Public Domain

Public domain refers to images that have no copyright, or where the copyright has expired or been waived. This means that anyone can use them without permission and for any purpose they wish. The caveat to this is that the image must be truly free of copyright. Images should be checked for usage rights before being used.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a flexible licensing option that allows artists to share their work while retaining some control over how it’s used. There are six different Creative Commons licenses, and each one has its own set of restrictions and permissions. All of them require attribution to the original creator, but beyond that, they vary in terms of how the image can be used. For example, some require that the image be used for non-commercial purposes only, while others allow for derivative works or commercial usage.


Royalty-free doesn’t mean that the photo is free to use, but rather that the license fee is paid once upfront, and the image can be used by the licensee repeatedly without any additional fees. This type of license is typically used by businesses to purchase stock images for marketing purposes, and is popular for social media campaigns and websites. It’s important to note that even though the image can be used multiple times, there may still be restrictions on how it can be used, such as limitations on the number of times it can be printed, or whether it can be used in a certain context.

Rights Managed

Rights Managed (RM) is a licensing model where the image is licensed for a specific purpose and for a specific length of time. RM licenses can be purchased either exclusively, meaning that no one else can use the image during the licensed period, or non-exclusively, meaning that multiple entities can use the image during the licensed period. Rights Managed images are typically used for editorial purposes, such as in newspapers or magazines, and can be very expensive.

Editorial Use Only

Editorial Use Only refers to images that can be used in editorial contexts, such as news articles or educational materials. These images typically depict people or events in real-world situations, and are used to illustrate a story or event. They cannot be used for commercial purposes, such as advertising, but can be used without permission for editorial purposes.

Social Media

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have their own licensing agreements that govern how images can be used on the platform. Generally speaking, users retain ownership of the images they post, but by posting them, they grant the platform a license to use the images in certain ways, such as displaying them on the platform and promoting the platform itself. However, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of each platform carefully, as they can differ significantly from one platform to another.


In conclusion, if you’re looking to use or monetize photography, it’s important to understand the various types of photo licenses out there. Copyright law can be complex, and infringements can result in hefty fines, so make sure you’re using images legally. Always check usage rights and licenses for the images you use, especially if you are using them for marketing purposes or for commercial use. By understanding the different types of photo licenses, you can ensure that you’re not only protecting yourself legally, but also supporting and respecting the creative work of others.