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Image Permissions: A Small Business Guide

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 Two women in an office look at the screen of a laptop. One of the women is sitting at the laptop; she has long red hair and wears a white collared shirt and a mustard yellow blazer. The other woman is standing and holding a coffee mug while pointing at the laptop screen; she has short pale blonde hair with an undercut and she wears a red shirt under an acid-washed denim jacket. The walls of the office are covered with yellow post-it notes, multi-colored pieces of paper, and charts written on large pieces of brown paper.

Images are powerful marketing tools, but the ways you can use digital images are defined by each image’s copyright. — Getty Images/Drazen Lovric

Images can be powerful attention-grabbing tools in marketing. However, it’s essential to understand how image permissions work. Doing so will save your company from future conflicts and unnecessary legal costs. Read on to learn more about image copyrights and the importance of obtaining proper permissions before using images in your marketing.

What is image copyright?

Image copyrights grant the creator or owner exclusive rights to control and protect the use and distribution of their images. These rights are governed by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. Different types of licenses exist, such as public domain use, Creative Commons (CC) licenses with various permissions and restrictions, and rights-managed licenses for negotiated usage rights.

If a creator gives up their rights or the copyright expires, the work then becomes public domain. To find non-copyrighted work in Creative Commons, search the image resource or database you use for the CC0 1.0 Universal license. Remember that when a person shares an image on social media, that doesn’t make it public domain; the copyright still belongs to the person who shared it.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted images without permission in certain circumstances — typically for purposes like criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Even if you think fair use applies, always do your due diligence before sharing any copyrighted image.

Keep in mind the following rights and restrictions associated with photography and stock images:

  • Rights-managed images have specific rules and fees that vary depending on the intended use.
  • Commercial rights allow you to use the photo for selling your own products or promoting your business through advertisements.
  • Non-commercial rights permit using the photo on your personal website and social media platforms without the intention of making a profit.
  • Exclusive rights give you sole ownership of the photo,
    ensuring it cannot be sold to others by the photographer. Non-exclusive
    rights allow the photographer to sell or grant rights to other
    individuals or businesses in addition to yours.
  • One-time use rights allow you to use the photo for a specific purpose agreed upon with the photographer, usually for a single instance.

[Read more: What Is Fair Use? And How It Impacts What Copyrighted Materials Your Business Can Use]


Stock images are valuable tools for marketers, offering budget-friendly visuals to engage audiences.

Consequences of violating copyright

Engaging in copyright infringement can result in serious consequences, including fines of up to $150,000 per infringement, in addition to legal costs and court fees. The court may order the seizure or destruction of infringing works, restricting their use. Social media accounts can be suspended or terminated due to copyright infringement. In severe cases, criminal charges and imprisonment may be possible.

How to legally use images for marketing

Use online stock images

Stock images are valuable tools for marketers, offering budget-friendly visuals to engage audiences. Stock image sites like Shutterstock, Getty, Unsplash, and Pexels offer plentiful collections of high-quality visuals. It remains important to understand licensing terms on these sites to ensure that content is used fairly and to avoid copyright issues. Read the website’s terms of use or license agreement carefully. These documents will tell you how you can use the images, whether you need to give credit, and any additional restrictions.

Obtain permission when needed

When you have chosen a copyrighted image that works for you, find out who owns the copyright and where they can be reached. Then, you can contact them and specifically explain how you plan to use the image. Sometimes, the copyright holder may want more control over how the image is used and might require a more detailed licensing agreement. In those cases, you can draft a simple document to formalize the agreement.

[Read more: How to Seek Permission to Use Copyrighted Material]

Create your own images

As an alternative to stock images, you can try making your own visuals. There are many free, easy-to-use graphic design tools available online, so you don’t need to be a professional to create high-quality graphics. This is a great way to add a unique touch to your marketing materials and connect with your target audience on a more personal level.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when creating your own images and graphics:

  • Use online design platforms like Canva, PicMonkey, or Prezi for easy graphic creation that will adhere to copyright law.
  • Choose readable fonts and consider the meaning of colors for effective branding.
  • Create reusable templates to save time.
  • As your business expands, consider outsourcing design work to freelance professionals.

[Read more: How to Protect Your IP: A Guide for Artists and Creators]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts.
However, before making any business decision, you should consult a
professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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Danielle Fallon-O'Leary

This post was originally published on this site

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