In the digital age, visuals often speak louder than words. However, using images legally and ethically is not as snapshot-simple as it seems. This course will navigate the complex terrain of image licensing, highlighting the dos and don'ts that can save your company from hefty fines and embarrassing mistakes. Strap in as we zoom into the world of copyrights, fair use, creative commons, and more!

This blog post was created because we inadvertentlyย used photos on our website that we were not licensed for (twice) and we were hit with heavy fines by the Associated Press. Most of these photos were shared with us by third parties and we simply used them without checking, but that does protect us against fines, as we can see below.

Photo Licensing 101 - The Basics Explained


Module 1: Introduction to Image Licensing

  • Understanding Copyrights: Explain the legal rights that protect creative works, emphasizing that images are intellectual property. Use visual aids and real-life scenarios to illustrate points.
  • Importance of Image Licensing: Discuss the ethical and legal imperatives of licensing. Explain how proper licensing respects creators, promotes creative industries, and avoids legal issues.
  • Real-world Cases: Share stories of companies (big and small) that faced legal repercussions for copyright infringements, highlighting the case with Associated Press. Use these stories to introduce common misconceptions and mistakes.
  • Activity: "Copyright Myth-Busting" - Participants debunk common myths about image licensing.

Module 2: Types of Image Licenses

  • Royalty-free: Explain that users don't have to pay royalties for each use, but there might be a one-time fee. Clarify common misconceptions about the โ€œfreeโ€ part.
  • Rights-managed: Discuss how this type allows for specific one-time use and often factors in circulation, geography, etc.
  • Creative Commons: Introduce the different types of CC licenses and what each one allows. Highlight the necessity of checking each image's specific restrictions.
  • Public Domain: Explain that these images are free to use because their copyrights have expired or never existed.
  • Activity: "License Matching" - Match different scenarios with the type of license most suitable for each.

Module 3: Safe Sources & How to Use Them

  • Stock Photo Websites: Discuss reputable sites, the types of licenses they offer, and proper usage.
  • Free Image Databases: Introduce reliable databases, noting they still require proper attribution.
  • Giving Proper Attribution: Demonstrate with examples how to correctly attribute images.
  • Activity: "Scavenger Hunt" - Find an image on a stock website and demonstrate how to attribute it correctly.

Module 4: The Gray Area: Navigating Fair Use & Editorial Use

  • Fair Use: Discuss the concept and the four factors of fair use, highlighting its subjectivity and legal ambiguity.
  • Editorial Use: Explain that some images are only licensed for editorial use due to their content (e.g., newsworthy events or celebrities).
  • Limitations and Risks: Stress that fair use and editorial use have their limits and potential legal risks.
  • Activity: "Is It Fair Use?" - Present various scenarios and ask participants to argue whether it's fair use or not.

Module 5: Asking for Permission: When & How

  • Communicating with Image Rights Holders: Role-play emailing a photographer or agency for permission to use an image.
  • Documenting Permission: Show how to keep records of license agreements or permission emails.
  • Negotiating Fees: Discuss potential costs and role-play negotiating fees.
  • Activity: "Email Trail" - Create a mock email conversation asking for image rights.

Module 6: Implementing Best Practices in Your Company

  • Creating an Image Use Policy: Provide a template and guide participants in creating a policy suitable for their company.
  • Educating Employees and Colleagues: Discuss methods to disseminate information (workshops, emails, etc.) within their organization.
  • Tools for Monitoring Image Use: Introduce software/tools that track image use and ensure compliance.
  • Activity: "Policy Drafting" - Draft a basic version of their company's image use policy.

Remember, folks, image licensing isn't just a bureaucratic hurdle; it's about respecting creators, following legal protocols, and keeping our hard-earned cash away from unnecessary fines. Stay savvy, and keep it legal!



As mentioned above, using photos inadvertently happens to the best of us. Below, you can see the violation letter received by RUF.

Test Yourself

Funny and Engaging Q&A Quiz Session

To wrap up our "picture-perfect" journey, we're hosting a quiz session! But forget the snooze-inducing Q&As you're used to; ours comes with a hilarious twist! Ready to giggle and learn?

Q1: If you find an image on Google, you can use it on your website because:

a) What's on the internet is free for all, it's the law of the digital jungle!
b) You're giving the artist free exposure, and they should pay you for this service, actually.
c) Google is the universal donor of images.
d) None of the above, unless you enjoy surprise legal fees!

Q2: What do you do if you find the perfect image on a stock website?

a) Download and use it; your secret is safe with us!
b) Take a similar photo yourself, replicating it down to the last pixel.
c) Purchase the appropriate license, and keep the documentation.
d) Start a petition to make the image free for public use.

Q3: You've used a photo you took at a celebrity event on your companyโ€™s social media. Your boss receives a cease and desist letter. Why?

a) The celebrity's aura is copyrighted.
b) You didn't have permission to use the celebrity's image for commercial purposes.
c) The celebrity is allergic to social media.
d) Your camera wasnโ€™t fancy enough for such high-profile content.

Q4: Which of these is NOT a type of image license?

a) Royalty-free
b) Rights-managed
c) Righteously-free (because youโ€™re such a nice person)
d) Creative Commons

Q5: Your company has been fined once again for using an image without proper licensing. How do you react?

a) Pack up your desk; it was a good run while it lasted.
b) Blame the intern; they know what they signed up for.
c) Take responsibility and suggest a team refresher course on image licensing.
d) Insist that the image looked so good, it was totally worth it.

Correct answers:

  1. d
  2. c
  3. b
  4. c
  5. c

Thank you for watching the videos and reading this post. Let's make sure we're using photos responsibly.

RUF - Romanian United Foundation


RUF is a 100% pass-through fundraising platform. We help diaspora & local nonprofits in Romania access the funding, tools, training, and support they need to become more effective. We do this by connecting NGOs, donors & volunteers from all over the world