I’ve seen that photo before. The Dangers of Stock Photography

Does that image you saw on an ad look familiar? Do you feel like you’ve seen it before but can’t remember where? Chances are, the photo was in another advertisement, for a totally different company! You may be ready to blow-the-whistle and claim infringement, but even though both advertisers are using the same image, they likely aren’t doing anything wrong at all.

Let’s try an experiment. We grabbed the first image that came up on Gettyimages.com when we searched “Winery”.  Then, we did a reverse image search to see all the places this same exact image has been used online. Needless to say, there is no shortage of companies all using the same image for the purposes of advertising.



Stock Images are a supply of photos available to be used for a wide range of applications under specific licenses. That means advertisers can use licensed photographs in print ads, online campaigns, websites, videos, etc. Trust us when we say, there is a seemingly endless well of stock photography online.


Why would I use a stock photograph?

We’re glad you asked. Using stock photography is a quick, easy, and affordable way to get images for your advertising needs. Think about it. If your client wants to use a photograph of Italy in an advertisement for their wine, you could charge them the cost of travel to Italy, the camera rental fee, the time spent at the shoot, your food, lodging, etc. If your client is willing to pay that bill, more power to you! Realistically, most clients don’t have that kind of budget. The alternative? License a stock image for a small fee and pick from thousands of images of Italy that can be used for this purpose. Stock photos allow you to have access to thousands and thousands of images at a fraction of the cost it would normally take for you to photograph things yourself.


Sounds great! What’s the catch?

As we mentioned before, stock image libraries are a terrific way to access a wide range of photographs available for you to use. The flip side is, the photographs are available for EVERYONE to use. Not just you. So, if your client calls you, upset he saw a competitor using the same image of Italy you used in their advertisement last month, well… there’s no law against that. By far, the most common license for stock images is “Royalty-Free”, which means once you pay for the image, you can use the image for as long as you want, as many times as you want, anywhere in the world. You can print it, use it online, and hang it in your home. The only limitation? You can’t resell it. As Getty Images states:

“[Royalty-Free is] Non-Exclusive, meaning that you do not have exclusive rights to use the content. Getty Images can license the same content to other customers. If you would like exclusive rights to use royalty-free content, please contact Getty Images to discuss a buy-out.”

If you are worried about others using the same stock photo you’ve chosen, you may think about moving towards a “Rights-Managed” license. RM has significantly more restrictions on how the image is used, including medium, period-of-time, print run, placement and location used. You still won’t have exclusive rights to the image (without additional fees), but RM photos tend to be considerably more expensive and more difficult to deal with. This helps weed out a lot of people looking for a quick, easy photograph.


I want exclusive rights!

It may seem like there is an endless supply of photos, but every now and again you will see overlap, as we showed you earlier. That overlap is NOT good for customer perception. Photos help establish your brand and create recognition with the customer. The last thing you want to do is put a ton of effort and money into advertising, only to see someone else using the same photograph as you. There’s a few things you can do to help avoid this awkward situation:

Exclusive Rights

Maintain control over who uses the image and for what purposes for a specific length of time.

Have a photoshoot

Curating your own images is the best way to have exclusive license to the images as well as full creative control over how they look. It may seem like an expensive step compared to a few dollars for a stock image, but in most cases, you will get several branded, exclusive images you can use in future advertisements. The images will look cohesive and branded, and best of all, you will have exclusive rights to them, so you’ll never see another company (legally) using them.


It happens…

source: reddit.com
source: reddit.com