The answer is maybe. (But why chance it?)
In recent years, there’s been an increase in stock media sites that claim to offer free high-quality photos, video, and audio at no cost to users. But is this content really free? The truth is that without doing a lot of legwork, you may never really know for sure.
Free stock content may seem like an awesome way to save a buck, but it could get your business into legal hot water and may end up losing you a lot of money.
Here are a few questions to think about before using your free downloaded content:
I found this cool video on a free stock site and I want to use it in an ad for my business. Can I legally do that?
Not necessarily. Chances are, if you’re creating projects on behalf of a business, the stock media you’ve downloaded is not intended for commercial use. In order to legally use stock in your advertising, marketing materials, presentation, product, or really anything intended to generate revenue for your business, you need make sure it’s licensed for commercial use by the original copyright owner.
Some free stock media sites make it super clear what content is licensed for commercial use, but some don’t do such a good job. Make sure you know before you plan an entire advertising campaign around one image.
The content I want to use is covered under a Creative Commons license. I should be good to use it, right?
Not necessarily. There are different variations of the Creative Commons license, and they all allow for different usage scenarios. Some allow for commercial use and some don’t. Some require you to provide attribution to the original copyright holder. Some allow you to alter the original content, while others don’t permit any derivative works (yes, that includes the hilarious meme you were going to make). Make sure you know what permissions apply to the photo, video, or audio you want to use.
The content I downloaded is in the Public Domain or is covered by a CC0 license (“no rights reserved”). That means I can legally use it for free for any purpose, correct?
Say it with me again: Not necessarily. On top of usage considerations, you also need to consider the subject depicted in the content you’re using.
“Free” content showing people is rarely really free to use. If a photo or video depicts a recognizable person, most countries legally require the model’s consent be obtained before using their image commercially. That means the awesome shot of that kid on a skateboard? If the site you downloaded from can’t provide a signed model release, you’ll have to track down the model (and in the case of this minor, their legal guardian) to get permission to use their likeness in your projects.
The same goes for landmarks and buildings. Without a signed property-release, that beautiful photo of the Eiffel tower at night can get you into une situation trés grave.
But how often do companies actually get in trouble for copyright infringement?
More than they used to. Media recognition technology is getting better and better, and tools like Google Reverse Image Search and YouTube and Facebook’s video and audio recognition systems make it easier than ever for copyright holders to find content that’s out of compliance.
So you’re saying I can’t ever use free stock media?
Not at all. If you’ve found a free piece of stock content that’s licensed for commercial use, and you’ve obtained proof of both a signed model and property release, you might be in the clear.
But know that most free stock services won’t help you out if a claim does arise. The legal responsibility for using stock content lies with the publisher (aka you or your business), regardless of whether you were aware of the infringement or not. That means you will be coughing up the cash if a claim is made. And typically the bigger the business, the larger the claims.
How can I avoid copyright infringement claims?
The best thing you can do to prevent being surprised by unexpected copyright claims is to license your stock content from a reputable source. Otherwise, you may end up paying $8,000 in damages for a bad photo of Nebraska.
Why is a Storyblocks Enterprise Membership the best deal for businesses using stock?
Lots of reasons, but here’s a few:
- Any content you or your users download from us is covered by our Storyblocks Business License. Content that you or users at your organization download is guaranteed royalty-free and licensed for commercial use.
- Storyblocks has your back if any claims arise. Enterprise Members get up to $1 million in indemnification for all Storyblocks users at your organization. We offer the highest level of coverage in the industry.
- Storyblocks takes care of the hard work of licensing for you. We have a professional team of content licensing specialists on staff, dedicated to making sure we do right by both our customers and contributors.
Last but not least, Storyblocks Enterprise Members get unlimited downloads from our image, video, or audio Member Libraries. You and your team can download as much as much content as you want for one flat annual price. Members also get an average savings of 70% off on millions of additional videos clips and images in our Marketplace.
Want to learn more about how Storyblocks Enterprise can protect your business?