Can i resell my bought stock photos?

One of the most confusing elements of buying and selling stock photos is understanding how they can be used. Images are subject to copyright, which places limitations on how end users are permitted to use them. When buying a stock image from a microstock or stock photo agency, you're actually only buying a license to the image. This license dictates the usage rights that come along with the photo, which is typically limited to your own personal use.

Personal use of a stock photo generally means using it for basic, non-commercial purposes. This includes featuring a photo within a blog post, e-book or other content. In these cases, the photo is intended to accompany existing content without being the commercial basis for the content itself. Most stock photo agencies do not permit license buyers to resell the image in any way, as the photo's creator or owner still holds the primary copyright.

Commercial Use

Commercial use of a stock image includes reselling the photo by using it in someone else's work. This is a common offense by web designers, who often use stock images they've purchased when designing clients' websites. This would also apply to ghostwriters who create content for a price; by including stock images they've purchased, they're effectively breaching their personal-use license to the photos.

Derivatives

Derivatives includes selling items prominently bearing the stock photo, without the copyright holder's permission. For example, taking a stock image and printing it on mugs, mouse pads or T-shirts would be considered a derivative use of the photo. This is not included in most stock photo agencies' standard licenses, but extended licenses can often be purchased to support derivative or commercial use.

In short, you typically can't resell your stock photos. Without proper licensing or express permission from the copyright holder, reselling a stock image for commercial purposes may be grounds for legal action. This could lead to extreme measures such as being forced to cease and desist with using a prominent image, or having to deliver all monies earned via the image to its copyright holder. For these and other reasons, it's best to read the license's fine print before using a stock photo.

Avatar of Amos Struck

Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

19 Comments
  1. it makes no sense. who would buy sock photos for mentioned ‘personal use’? people want to use them in their designs – that’s the main purpose.

    • Hello John, yes you are right we did not mention it absolute correct. What we mean is that you will need a extended licence if you use the work in a work for a client because in most cases you will resale your “work”. The personal use is more means as a use for your own commercial or company. Thank you for your answer!

  2. So in using stock photos.. If a graphic designer uses a stock image and adds their personal spin on the art,, is it still considered copyright? or can they still use the stock image with no penalty?

    • Hi Niko, your question is not really clear to me. If you create a design based on a stock photo, you can usually give this design to the customer to be used in a limited way. Some stock agencies do allow to use the same stock photo again in another design, some don’t. Always check the stock agency license agreement. As far as I understand your question, you do not own a copyright on the new graphic. That you should check with a lawyer though.

  3. If I find a smartphone wallpaper that I like and want to add another design on top, and then sell it, as a sort of “generate in demand” is that legal? The design would essentially block out about 20% of the image.

    • Hi Tim, that is a bit complicated. It’s not clear to me what you are going to sell exactly? Please be aware that I’m not a lawyer nor can I give legal advice. I always recommend to check this with the stock agency you want to buy from. But if you are using an image and creating a individual design for a customer then this is usually a “derivate” and you can sell your design as a service. If you are using a “template” and sell this to many customers (even if it is only 20%) then this usually requires an extended license. But always ask the stock agency before you buy. I hope that helps.

  4. Hello I am starting a social media premade post website where I make advertisment like post premade for businesses to just post. Obviously I put words and graphics around stock photos. I wanted to know if you knew where this would fall. I am using adobe stock and their standard licensing rules are a bit confusing

  5. Hi, Amos, I understand Shutterstock logic completely. Only company A which is paying monthly subscription to Shutterstock has a licence to use that image. The image cannot be passed to company B (for example on a leaflet that company A has designed for company B).

    All clear. But. Are you aware that this is massively done all over the world and that companies who want to stick to that strict rule can either be closed or not opened at all.

    Please start chasing then all the companies that are selling their products with your imagery to the other companies. Only that would be fair to everyone.

    The current situation is: The one who dears to cheat, can sell. The one who does not dear to cheat can close down his or her company. In other words: jungle or call it wild west if you prefer.

    • Hi Skelty, I think you might have misunderstood something here. The most stock agencies do ALLOW that you create a design for your client and then give the client the design (called derivate work). But they do NOT allow to give the client just the stock photo (as file). They also do not allow that you buy and re-sell the stock photo for your client. So you must diferenciate between giving the raw image (as file) to your client and creating a “new work” where the image file is a part of it and then give the “new work” design to your client. That should be no problem with most stock agencies.

      • Adobe Stock specifically allows you to transfer standard licenses for assets purchased to your client or employer. I quote:

        With a Standard license, you may:
        -Share the unmodified asset with your employees and contractors who have contractually agreed to abide by the license terms.
        -Transfer the license to your client or employer.

        • Yes, they “may” allow this but you can still not resell the images. Also sometimes the license agreements say “may” but you might need writing permission by them additionally or at least ask if this is applicable to your account/subscription.

  6. Hi

    What about the case where you buy a stock photo under a standard license. You then add value to the photo, and thereby create a “new work”. Would it be ok to re-sell the “new work” as a poster in a webshop?

    • No you would not have the rights to do so, you would need to purchase an “Extended License” or “Enhanced License” (which you can find for our shop here). With that extended license most stock agencies will allow you to create work to be sold as poster or mug or on t-shirts. Just keep in mind that “print on demand” and also some platforms like Amazon Merch are not covered with this extended license.

  7. Hi, great post! I’m wondering how about watercolor paintings created from the stock photos? I want to use photos as a reference and make paintings for sale on Creativemarket? Extended license lets many usages, but what happens in this situation? Is it enough to purchase the extended license or is it forbidden at all?

    Thanks for any ideas;)

    • Hi there, thank you for your question. I don’t think that this can be done with any of the existing licenses. Because you would need to have the copyright over the image (even if it is in watermark). But I recommend to ask the stock agency which you want to buy from about it again.

  8. Hi Kat, this is a very interesting questions. I think you should ask this to the stock agency he has bought the images from. I would say that you can not resell the images created because you do NOT own a commercial license for the images. I suggest that you buy your own extended (commercial) license for the images you want to re-sell (even if they are edited by the designer). That way you will, at least, have a own license.

  9. Hello Amos,

    I am curious about the restrictions (or lack thereof) pertaining to purchasing the rights to a photo in digital form and reselling it in derivative form. Let’s say, for example, that I purchased a photo as a .pdf from a private seller on Etsy. If there were no posted limitaions mentioned or described by the seller would I be able to print and “re-sell” that image on a mug/t-shirt, or would I have to obtain special permission from the person I already purchased the photo from?

    • Hi, that sounds like a copyright and license nightmare. 1.) “bought an image as .pdf” – just why? Why not as JPG? 2.) Buying an image without a cleared license or at least a clear written contract will get you into trouble. I would not touch anything like that to use in a commercial matter i.e. printing. Rather go and buy you a proper extended license to print the image and resell it.

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