Not only shrinking budgets but also the need to get images within a very tight timeframe are factors making microstock images a choice used by more and more companies and PR agencies. Microstock vendors offer licence free image (and video) material for a much lower budget than traditional photo agencies and the material can be purchased online at any time.So far so good – but there are some gaps in the legal  understanding of picture licensing frequently causing confusion and restraints towards stock photo usage among the users.

There is no such thing as “images for free”

While some users are still struggling with the question weather it is safe to use stock photo images there are still other users who think they can just google some images and use those. But however nice it might seem – there is no such thing as ‘images for free’. Numerous verdicts by courts like the federal court of Hamburg certify: the usage of images found via Goole or other search engines generally infringe copy rights. Using those image would require the rights to reproduction of the original image. Even if the practice temptingly easy it doesn’t rectifies a violation of the image owner’s copy rights – media lawyer Jens O. Brelle, Hamburg, summarizes the market situation.

In this situation licence free images of microstock agencies are a feasible alternative. Unlike traditional photo agencies which sell licence rights only for a specific placement of the image licence free stock images can be used worldwide and without time limits. This makes microstock images ideal for PR purposes as their goal usually is to issue a text and the illustrating images in as many outlets as possible.

Sounds very convincing doesn’t it? But as often the devil is in the details because the term “licence free” consistently causes misconceptions. Despite the term “licence free“ users still have to follow certain rules and restrictions regarding the usage of licence free photos, illustrations and graphical images. Especially in the PR practice these restrictions can appear to be quite complex.

Some of the largest stock photo companies now launched The site was created to clear up misunderstandings about the legalities of image usage and to provide information and advice on how to license images with confidence. The initiative was a response to a survey of image users that showed many gaps in legal understanding of picture licensing. was built by Getty Images, owner of iStockPhoto, and is supported by leading stock image vendors such as Shutterstock as well as industry associations like PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) and BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies).

Wibke Sonderkamp