Question about Image Licensing

This may be a silly question, but I am a little overwhelmed at what I think is contradictory information out on the net (gee...not surprising).

So, If I am a developer for a company (which I am)...and I buy a subscription for images somewhere from a "royalty free" site (like shutterstock or istockphoto or somewhere similiar), can I reuse the image I bought through the subscription in more than one project or do I have to buy it again if I reuse the image in more than one course? I have read on most of their contracts that it cannot be housed on a problem, they are in My Pictures on my computer, but the rest I am not sure of.

Secondly, If I decide to branch out on my own one day and design ecourses for then do I use those images since I am now "selling" the design which would include images I purchased from a stock site. How do you bundle your "design" to a client with images? Do you add the cost of the images into the cost of the course if you have to buy special licensing for that image?

Sorry if this is a newbie question, but I am a rule follower (been in HR for 15 years), so I want to make sure I don't "break the rules" so to speak.



29 Replies
Phil Mayor

Gina, if you own the license you should be able to reuse it.  To reuse it in freelance really you need a subscription or buy the images individually.

You need to be careful with subscriptions because they sometimes only give you rights to the images whist you have the subscription, shutterstock is definitely one of these.

Others can probably better answer the wuerstion about how you charge images to clients, 


David Anderson

Hi Gina,

Great question and the answers vary depending on the site and when you read the license policy.

Shutterstock, for example, allows you to use your images after your subscription, with the condition that you've used the images at least once in a six-month period of your subscription expiration date. They don't, however, qualify "use"

If your company purchased the image subscription license so you probably can't use the images after you leave. You'd need to get a new subscription and download the images to create something new.

David Anderson

Most sites give permission to use images in commercial projects--courses, web sites presentations--as long as you're not reselling the images.

The big no-no is to sell the images you download. The big distinction most sites make is between commercial products (courses, presentations) and commercial templates (generic templates using stock images). Templates for sale require an enhanced license. On iStock for example, a standard license might be $10 while the enhanced license is $130.

David Anderson

You can distribute images to your clients only in the final product. You can't distribute--under standard licenses--the images as a separate asset folder. So, you can add the images to a PowerPoint file, or Quizmaker file, or Engage file and send to your client. In most cases, you can't give a folder of source images as a separate deliverable.

Gina Hoekstra

Here is the license that is bugging me from the site I had a one week subscription to (the bold is the piece that is driving me bonkers), the rest is standard compared to the other contracts I have read:

Subject to the limitations and restrictions set forth herein, a Standard license gives User the right to use a File or to create and use a Permitted Derivative Work, all for a single application only, and only for the following purposes:

  1. prints, posters and other reproductions for personal use, advertising and promotional applications, including printed materials, product packaging, presentations, film and video presentations, commercials, catalogues, brochures, promotional greeting cards and promotional postcards (providing they are not for resale, license or other distribution);
  2. print media applications, such as books and book covers, magazines, newspapers, editorials, newsletters, and video, broadcast and theatrical displays;
  3. on–line or electronic publications, including web pages (but only when the pixel density for such File is limited to 1024 x 768); and
  4. any other uses approved in writing by Depositphotos.
Gina Hoekstra

Well, I contacted their people and I am NOT HAPPY!!! I wanted to make sure that I had the right (or wrong) idea. I don't want to abuse anyone's contract. I TOLD THEM:

 I produce ecourses for my company. So If I make more than one ecourse (online e learning that is built in Adobe Captivate), I cannot use the same image in both without purchasing it twice?


"in case this courses are different (with different texts and tasks) you are to purchase image two times. But in case the learning material is the same and you only use it twice (for two groups of students) one license is enough."


So they are basically saying I have to pay for the image every time I want to create a new course. I told them that if this is the case, I will need to find a different site because this is not a true Royalty Free image as they claim.


I think I am going to dress myself in a suit (darn...I hate dressing up)..haha...and take a million pics of me on a white background so I don't have to worry about this again! ugh!

David Anderson

Those sites are all a little different and they don't use plain English.

I've used a few sites that only permitted image use during active subscriptions. That was  just as prohibitive as single-use applications. The three sites I use--ThinkStockImages, Shutterstock and iStockPhoto--are good about multi-application licensing. You just have to read, read and then ask

Matt Lobel

Hi Gina,

I'm so sorry you are having problems like that.  I own, a full stock agency focused on the eLearning segment.  We do not offer a subscription based system (mostly because this hurts those who produce media), but our images run as low as .90 each, dependent upon volume, and our license is very liberal:

From our license:  ". . .  the Member shall have the right to sell or distribute the Work solely as incorporated onto an item of merchandise or other work of authorship if the primary value of the item being sold or distributed does not lie with the Work(s) themselves."

Translation:  You can use the images in your courses (as many as you would like), even if they are commercial in nature, as long as the image is not the primary content.  (i.e. you can't print a t-shirt and resell, but knock yourself out using them in courses, course collateral, etc. . .)

Whether you wind up using us or not, good luck with this!!

Tino Martin

Could I possibly get a review or summary or something....I am still lost! 

I make training courses for mechanics using iStock standard lic. images..  Now my boss want to sell one of the courses to somebody at another company across the country. and wants to know if that is ok? and I dunno...   I am not even sure it's ok what I am doing.  All my images are from iStock, I develop the content on my desktop and they are served to different students/mechanics from the company server.   

If anyone could take the time to weigh in on this, it would be greatly appreciated.  I am over my head and trying to decipher the license is not going good.  I think my boss wants me to say it is good, so if anybody gets sued, it will be me!!!!

Gina Hoekstra


I feel your frustration. I took a quick look at iStock standard licensing and it says this::

"For clarity, you may not use the Content in products for resale"

So I would say, no, your company cannot resell it unless you change out the pictures.

I am still confused about all of it. I used Fotalia for a while and got what I needed for now. When i need more, I am going back to them. They were inexpensive and allow for multiple use. iStock does too, but I think they were more expensive than Fotalia.

The problem is that all the image sites have their own language in the contracts. I am not a lawyer, so I don't even TRY to distinguish. If you are truly concerned, maybe your company lawyer (if you have one) can take  a look at the contract.

Good luck!

Tino Martin

There will be no lawyer, it is my lap.....

An issue which causes me to stumble is when iStock refers to resell of PRODUCTS, it is used in the context of posters, cards, etc., all tangible goods,  with omission of mention of courses, webpages, e.g digital products....

Items for Resale – Limited Run

You may purchase Extended Licenses allowing uses of the Content in items for resale, license, or other distribution, including:

  1. up to 100,000 cards, stationery items, stickers, or paper products,
  2. up to 10,000 posters, calendars, mugs, or mousepads,
  3. or up to 2,000 t-shirts, apparel

There other, iStock, extended license;

4. Electronic Items for Resale – Unlimited Run

You may also purchase the option to resell the Content in an unlimited number of electronic templates for e-greeting or similar cards, electronic templates for web or applications development, PowerPoint or Keynote templates, screensavers, and email or brochure templates.

does not specifically mention the category of e-learning which is substantially different than their examples...

I HAVE to get to the bottom of this without a lawyer.  The iStock images are locked in and well received; the product under consideration for purchase. 

thanks for chiming in, 


Gina Hoekstra

IMO, a course is a product. I had a run in with another image company a while back where I spent money before I read the "contract" and all their images were one time use only. When I couldn't get a clear picture of what they meant by that I emailed them and told them EXACTLY what I needed it for. They said, topic, one course, that's it. So, I did not renew with them and instead am using Fotalia. I can use it pretty much as much as I need in as many courses as possible (but not for resale).

Depending on the type of picture, you may be able to make them yourself with a decent camera. I am at that point now, where I am planning on just doing my own. I already started by doing hand shots and things like that for courses. I just bought a Green Screen too and some inexpensive video editing software.

It is not fun to figure out. I think your best bet is to email them...tell them your plan and see what they say. Just make sure you ask for a manager or something and get a name if they say ok. I would want that type of information in writing somehow. GOOD LUCK!

Tino Martin

Well, still trying to trudge my way thru it all..  but, the NON-TRANSFERABLITY of a license seems to be a show stopper for me.   I keep creating more and more questions, instead of finding answers.

It is a good thing I like getting to the bottom of things, like this..It may take me awhile but I will. 

There will be multiple students taking my course, served from a server...  I saw reference somewhere that this would necessitate multiple licenses.  

I also am looking into Creative Commons.....

Phil Mayor

The simplest solution is to contact the site and explain your situation they will let you know if you can use the images and resell your product or if you need another type of license.

The bonus on this is that you have a response from the company that can mitigate legal action.

As far as your employer is concerned they are vicariously responsible for your actions, so the organisation and not you will be responsible legally.

Matt Lobel

Phil has the correct approach. 

I'll also repeat for the record that you'll have no problem with putting our images into a course that is then replicated for resale or for use by multiple students.  As long as you are not reselling our images (i.e. using one of the images as the main/featured part of a resale product, like a photo on a t-shirt or mug) then you are safe.

We have millions of images as well as pure eLearning imagery:

If you run into any questions about licensing from our site, you can contact me directly and I'm happy to assist.  I wish you luck whether or not you use us as legal issues are not fun waters to navigate.

Andrew Scivally

Just another option here....we offer an annual subscription service to our People Image/Video Library. (

There are 10,000+ cutout people images and we are launching cutout people videos also this week.  

Our licensing should work for the concerns I've seen in this thread.

1. You get unlimited access / downloads while your subscription is live.

2. If you don't renew a subscription you can keep all images that are currently being used in projects, presentation, and other media.

3. Yes you can sell content that you produced using our images/video. (not allowed to just start selling individual photos however.)

We create all of these images ourselves so we have 100% ownership of them. (we don't resell other photographers' images.) This allows us to be super flexible. If you have any questions please let me know.