Editorial Use of Stock Photography

Editorial Stock Photos, or editorial use of stock photos, refers to the use of stock images in an editorial context — this is, anything related to newsworthy events or public interest matters, where there is no direct commercial benefit or personal gain by the photographer or the licensee.

That's the basic, but there's other important points to know when it comes to editorial stock photos.

Editorial Usage and Model Releases

In stock photography, for any photo or image depicting one or more people to be used for commercial purposes, the photographer or artist that created the image must provide a ‘model release' for each of the persons in the photo.

A model release is a legal document in which the person gives permission to have their likeness depicted in the image and used with commercial intention. This also applies to ‘property releases', documents where the owners of private property or trademarks (logos, designs, etc) grant permission for their property to be included in the images.

Model and property releases protect the models/property owners's “right to privacy” and also gives them a way to avoid having their likeness used for commercial purposes without their consent. When signed, these documents protect both the photographer or artists, and whoever licenses the images, because they guarantee the commercial usage is legal.

Now, for editorial use, stock photos are not required to have model releases signed. As long as you use the image for editorial purposes only — this is, to accompany or illustrate a newsworthy or public interest event or matter — you can use any image including people, even if they haven't signed a release.

This allows you to use stock photos in your editorials that you could never use if they required model releases, like an image of a crowd attending a massive cultural event, or any photo of a famous person (“celebrity”), for example.


Restrictions for Editorial Usage

The standard Royalty Free usage requirements apply to Editorial Stock Images. But this particular usage license adds some extra restrictions:

  • Images cannot be used for personal benefit or commercial gain
  • Images cannot be used in any illegal or defamatory way
  • Images cannot be used in any logo, trademark, or service mark
  • Credit must be given adjacent to the image any time it is used, and should appear in the format: “[photographer's name]/[stock company name]”

When you're in doubt about whether an image and your intended use of it falls under Editorial Use, always remember that newsworthiness and commercial gain are the key points to determine if an image can be used for editorial purposes only.

If the image has considerable newsworthy value, and if your use does not pursue commercial benefits or personal gain, likely an Editorial Use license would cover your usage.

It's also very important for you to remember that Commercial images (Royalty Free or Rights Managed) can be used for editorial purposes following the usage guideline detailed here, but that this is NOT the case the other way round: you cannot use Editorial Use images for commercial purposes.

Amos Struck
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