Navigating Stock Content Providers and Licensing Agreements

Video Bloggers: Legal Issues You Need to Know
March 28, 2017
FTC Letter to Influencers: A Few Guidelines to Follow
June 8, 2017

Navigating Stock Content Providers and Licensing Agreements

For creative industry companies, “stock content” seems like a taboo topic and original content is always a great way to showcase your brand or company’s personality. However the costs of hiring a photographer, musician, or writer might be too great of a time and monetary investment for many projects. Purchasing from stock content providers can therefore be a very beneficial alternative to original images or songs. How do you navigate through the multitude of content providers and licensing terms?

Here is a guide on choosing a stock content provider and the actual content you will be using:

This post is meant to be taken as general information, not legal advice. Contact an attorney if you have any questions regarding stock music or photo providers and available licenses.

What are the available types of licenses?

Stock content providers normally work with two types of licenses: rights managed or royalty free. Rights-managed licenses come with a variety of limitations regarding how you can use the content you are purchasing. There might be limitations on the industry you can use the image or music in, the duration of use, geography, type of platform (blog, online store, printed material, etc.) and more.

Royalty-free licenses, on the other hand, are free of most limitations. Some stock content providers will, for instance, refuse any modifications to the songs or pictures you are purchasing, but royalty-free licenses usually allow you to use the content on any platform, multiple times, regardless of the geography or duration of your project.

How to pick a stock content provider

The first element you need to figure out are your end plans for the content, including variations of the content. Some stock content providers will be more adequate for certain uses than others. The two types of licenses aforementioned both have their pros and cons, but they should be your basis for choosing the right provider for you.

For instance, if you would like to go down the original route without having to hire a photographer to create specific content for you, a stock content provider with a rights-managed license might be the best option for you, as it would allow you to use certain works for a specific amount of time, while having the exclusivity during the duration of that project (if that option is available). If you need content to use prior to the launch of your business or new blog, this would allow you to use a picture or a song without any of your competitors being able to do the same.

If you need to put out an important volume of content out (for your social media platforms, for instance), going with a provider with a royalty-free license, especially when exclusivity is not a concern, might be better. Not having to worry about any specific limitations is also a pro when you have other employees handling your social media platforms.

Legal protection is an element you should also keep in mind. Legal issues regarding copyright infringement or rights of publicity can arise even if you have rightfully purchased the content you are using. Some stock content providers will include in their license legal protection, meaning that most legal disputes can be handled directly by the provider, so be on the lookout for that when you read licensing agreements.

Tips and Tricks for Using Stock Content:

1. Avoid generic images and songs: Stock content does not necessarily mean uninteresting content. Many providers now offer high quality songs and images that are far from being boring or generic and that can allow you to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Take the time to select a few websites and to compare their offerings before making a choice.

2. Pay attention to details: They say the devil is in the details and that applies to stock content too. Carefully analyze what you are thinking about purchasing: the color scheme, the background, the people on the pictures, the clothes they are wearing, their hand gestures, etc. You do not want to use content that is unpleasant to the eye or the ear and that might drive your customers away.

3. Research the content before purchasing it: Although most stock content you purchase has probably already been used by others, it can be interesting to look into how your competitors or any other businesses are using the images or songs you are thinking of purchasing a license for. In certain cases, some content such as songs have been used so often by a specific brand (as an intro song for their YouTube videos, for instance) that many people will automatically link the two together. It might therefore be a good choice to stay away from such content.

4. Have a talk with your employees and colleagues: if you have a team of employees or colleagues you know will be using the stock content you purchased a license for, taking the time to make them go through the licensing terms and informing them of what they can and cannot do will avoid you a lot of trouble.

As with all Law on the Runway posts, please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions, you may email