• No products in the cart.

Photo & Image Licenses for WordPress — How Not To Get Lost in The Jungle

Photo & Image Licenses for WordPress — How Not To Get Lost in The Jungle

Welcome to this education series we are doing at PixelRockstar. We’d like to share knowledge with you about the legal aspects of photo and image use in your online publications. We are writing this for the WordPress community, but the content is relevant for any Web Online Publisher.

Image and photo licenses in general are a complex topic. We will aim to cover the main licenses and the two main use cases known in the market to create a general understanding of the subject complexity. The most important thing is that licenses are different between stock agencies and come in all flavours and limitations that end users are often not aware of. For example Social Media Usage is not covered by some agencies.

Two Common Licenses for Photos & Other Visual Content

Most stock photography agencies and vendors set their own licensing terms, but they normally do so based on two main license models.

Royalty Free vs. Rights Manages License

RF or Royalty Free License

This is the most popular license in use today. Don’t let the “Free” in the name mislead you: this license is NOT for free. Royalty Free means that after the initial fee that grants usage permission, the buyer is allowed to use the photos or images in multiple use cases without any further payments being required. Generally an RF license allows usage of an image or photo in a very broad range of uses without any extra charges (flat fee for multiple uses). But there is a fee to be paid.

Each stock agency defines their own terms under the Royalty Free license, and there is no single unified interpretation of this license type in the industry. For this reason it is very important to carefully read the license conditions before using the image or photo you acquired.

Royalty Free licenses are often much cheaper than Rights Managed licenses. This is mainly due to the lack of further royalties requirements, but also because it is a non-exclusive licensing model that allows an image or photo to be sold multiple times, earning the author more money. The business focus is in volume sales, and this contributes to lower the license’s fee prices.

RM or Rights Managed License

The Rights Managed license covers a particular and exact use of the photo or image, and is priced according to the necessary rights to cover said use. This is the old style license. It limits the usage of an image or photo in time, geographical location, channels and intention (for example: you can acquire an RM license to use an image for 1 year in a company brochure, but a new edition will need a new license, as well as using the same image in an Ad for the same company would). Additional usages and longer-terms uses will often cost more money.

Due to its limitations and higher costs, this licensing model is not very popular today. It’s still used, but much less widely, by multinational companies and brands in exclusive advertisements and marketing campaigns, and similar cases. This is mainly because of one of the advantages of Rights Managed license: it may include exclusive usage rights, granting the buyer that no one else will use the same image, for as long as the buyer’s exclusive license is valid.

The RM license depends on the specifics of the case, each right needed to cover the intended use adds to the final cost, making them commonly much more expensive than Royalty Free photos.

Two Main Use Cases

Stock photos and images can be used for various purposes with virtually infinite possibilities, but they all usually fall within two main use cases:


Commercial Usage

Almost all stock agencies sell commercial Royalty Free Licenses. This license includes the rights to use images in any commercial or for-profit purpose: advertising, marketing, promotional or corporate content for your company, and other similar cases. Images are not exclusive to use, as the creator makes money on the volume of sales.

To use a stock photo or image commercially, any trademarks (like logos or patented designs, think of the Starbucks logo or the image of an iPhone) as well as other elements that are subject of property rights –the lighting of the Eiffel Tower at night, for example– must count with a property release where the owner grants permission for the element to be used commercially, or otherwise be retouched to be eliminated from the image. If the photo includes models, a model release accepting their image to be used must be assured as well.


Editorial Usage

Commonly used by newspapers and magazines for news related photography. Editorial images often contain trademarks (cars, landmarks, etc.), brands and even people, but they do not count with the necessary property and model releases.

Their usage is very limited and generally only allow you to support news articles. Editorial usage does not allow modifications of the artwork, and in some cases requires to credit the author and the agency. There are very few stock agencies that offer Editorial usage images.

In general the understanding of licensing rights for Editorial usage is not widely understood in the online world. The main point to know is that stock images labeled as Editorial, are for editorial use only, and cannot be used for any kind of commercial or for-profit use. Additional requirements, such as the need include credits, are set by each individual agency.

Benefits of PixelRockstar Digital License


The PixelRockstar WordPress plugin has been created from the start to allow WordPress online publishers to easily search, within WordPress, for photos and images to use in their publications. Simply download photos and images to your Media Library and add them with ease to WordPress as a featured image or in the body of your article.

PixelRockstar’s images and photos come with our Digital License, designed to cover your main usage needs for WordPress publishers. The PixelRockstar Digital License allows you to use purchased images forver in your websites, Social Media and Newsletters. When you publish your article including photos from PixelRockstar, the use of the photos in supportive material such as your newsletter and other social media channels is allowed as well. So if you are publishing your WordPress corporate or personal blog, the Digital License has you covered.

These are the two main licensing types, and our new Digital License. All three are relevant to any publisher on WordPress or any online publication platform.

In the next article of this series we will be covering the Creative Commons License and GNU Public License, both often used to license images and photos on the web in the Public Domain.


Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

Alex Preukschat

A WordPress publisher since 2008, Alex loves the open source Internet. During his many years of publishing experience, he had been missing a tool to help online publishers to quickly add affordable images to WordPress, without having to worry about legal issues. This is why he decided to create PixelRockstar with Amos. Alex is interested in superheroes, monetary policy and Bitcoin.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.