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.

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.

8 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

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