Today we are going deep into Shutterstock’s license agreement. We’ll explain all their terms and give you all the relevant info about them.
This way, you’ll not only make sure you’re using Shutterstock photos correctly but also that you are getting every possible benefit from them, too!
Let’s get started, shall we?
The Basics of this Shutterstock License Breakdown
Before we go into the actual fine print, let’s revise the principles of Shutterstock’s usage agreement, which you can find here, to start from an informed base.
We'll preface this by stating since Shutterstock.com is one of the best stock photo sites of today, and have been consistently at the top of the stock photography industry since its launch in 2003, we believe their licensing terms are not only worth knowing for the sake of using Shutterstock content but also because they are an example of a stock media licensing agreement that inspires those of many other stock agencies. If you use stock photos regularly, knowing about the Shutterstock license helps you understand how online media licensing works.
We hope that reading this will help you not only understand how Shutterstock operates, but also why they charge what they charge for their service.
For more information about the costs of Shutterstock stock images, do check out our in-depth article with everything you need to know about Shutterstock pricing! You'll find details about image packs, monthly subscriptions, annual subscriptions, multimedia subscription plans, extended license costs, and more to save money and find the perfect option for your budget limitations.
And if you want to learn all about Shutterstock, make sure to read our Shutterstock review. Everything, from company history to payment method to bonus features, is in there! For even more info, our Shutterstock statistics report has all the relevant numbers to understand this agency better.
It’s a Royalty Free License
Shutterstock operates on the basis of a Royalty-Free license agreement, meaning the fee you pay for an image (whether it is via a stock photo subscription or if you purchase on-demand packs) is the one and the only fee you’ll ever pay for it. Once licensed and paid for, you will not be required to pay royalties for the use of said image ever again.
Keep in mind the same Royalty-Free license applies to any images you download with the new Shutterstock Free Trial, which makes them even more valuable, as most other free photos from the web are under Creative Commons or under the public domain, but Shutterstock's are all verified and policed, making them ideal for online advertising and similar marketing purposes.
It’s a One-Seat, Personal License
On Shutterstock, you can find multi-seat licenses for teams and also corporate agreements for companies and brands. However, the most common is the personal, individual license: one customer uses their individual Shutterstock account to license (download) and uses photos in various projects. This is the license option we are analyzing here today. [Note: you can find out the status of your account –individual, multi-seat, or corporate– in your account settings].
We’re Covering the Commercial Use License
Shutterstock has two license types available, albeit both royalty-free. One is the Standard Royalty-Free License for using the images for commercial purposes: marketing, advertising, branding, and all other uses linked to business activities, looking to generate profit (there's also an Extended license for this type). The other is the Editorial license, for editorial use only, which has a different set of rights and limitations. If you're in doubt as to which license you need, we got your back with our article explaining when to use a commercial license and when an editorial one.
Today we are focusing on the former (Commercial Use License), as it’s the one that concerns the most creatives and business owners reading us.
If you’re a publisher, keep reading though! The Commercial license has applications for blog post images, e-books, and print publishing too.
However, you can also check this article that explains editorial stock images, and read about where to find the best editorial images online, you’ll find Shutterstock Editorial is a very good provider!
We’re Centering on the Image License
Shutterstock is a high-quality stock media service for creative professionals, thus it offers more than just still images. They have dedicated libraries for stock footage and stock audio, and each of these media formats has its respective licensing terms.
If you're interested in video content, you'll be happy to know that Shutterstock has a very convenient video license, and has recently added an Enhanced Video License option with unlimited audience size coverage. (If you are interested in learning about this kind of license, read this full Shutterstock Video License explanatory guide!)
In this article, though, we are studying the Image License as stock photos and stock images are still the number one media creatives are after and the most extensively used across platforms and mediums, both as tangible media or digital reproduction.
Note: Shutterstock has recently introduced the Flex 25 subscription that enables multimedia downloads, all under the same Standard, Royalty-Free license. You can now get a Flex subscription with a 15% off thanks to our exclusive Shutterstock Coupon!
A License is Only Issued with a Legal, Authorized, Non-Watermarked Download
All Shutterstock images appear watermarked with the Shutterstock logo on their website. This is to prevent them from being illegally downloaded and used without a license. The only way to obtain a valid license from Shutterstock is to download the files from their authorized sources (i.e., their download buttons).
There are ways to do this, both paid and also free of charge. Here, you can learn the 5 methods to download photos from Shutterstock without a watermark (with a valid license).
Shutterstock Licensing Terms Explained
Alright, it’s time to get down to business. This is what the terms in Shutterstock License mean:
#1. Non-Exclusive, Non-Transferrable, Worldwide, Perpetual
This is the core of the agreement you subscribe to when you download an image from Shutterstock, so it’s very important to understand it fully.
It is as clear as it can be: you can edit, or alter, and use the licensed image however you want, anywhere you want, in as many projects as you wish, forever. Just keep in mind others can license and use the same image at the same time as you, too.
You cannot resell, gift or transfer the licensed image to anyone for its use as-is. This license applies to you only, and you’re solely responsible for its use.
Also, there is a series of usage limitations that you must abide by, which we’ll explain further along.
#2. Standard Image License
Now we’re getting specific. This details the “Do’s” we just overviewed, clearly laying out what the Standard image license grants and the many possibilities in Shutterstock images for businesses and creatives, but it also implies some important “Don’ts” that were unknown until this point.
You get worldwide digital use including all main purposes like websites, online and mobile advertising, social media, email marketing, mobile apps, software, digital publishing and more. There are no restrictions on the number of views/visitors.
Use in physical form (i.e. prints), such as product packaging, business stationery, POS advertising, advertising in physical publications, billboards, wall art, etc. is limited to 500,000 copies.
A special case is that of film, video, television series, advertisements and video productions for online streaming platforms and video sharing services (such as YouTube or Vimeo). Where you are allowed to use Shutterstock photos, but as long as the production budget does not exceed $10,000.
You can’t exceed 500,000 physical copies or use the images in audio-visual productions that cost more than $10,000 to make. You can’t use the photos in products that you will then resell on a retail model (like t-shirts or canvases, for example).
So what if you need more than 500,000 prints, you have a big-budget production in which you want to use images, or you want to use stock photos on a design to resell and make money? There is a solution: Shutterstock’s Enhanced License. Keep reading to find out more!
#3. General Restrictions
More very important details, this time about the things you categorically can’t do with Shutterstock images. These are restrictions that cannot be overcome (meaning Enhanced License does not remove the prohibitions). So it’s very important to know them.
The rest is what is known as “Sensitive Use clauses”, that restrict uses that might result in moral or personal conflicts:
- Use in pornography or content that could be perceived as defamatory, deceptive or in any way illegal, is forbidden.
- It’s also not allowed to use photos of people (models) that puts them under a “bad light” or in any way that could be seen as negative. This means topics like pornography, adult content, dating and escort services, political endorsement, promotion of health-endangering products (like tobacco), content linked to religion, or about physical or mental disabilities, as well as immoral or criminal activity, are off the table.
#4. Enhanced License
Remember at the end of point #2 we said Enhanced License was the solution if you needed to remove the print run limit, budget limit, or resell prohibition? We were not kidding!
Shutterstock’s Enhanced License quite literally enhances all the standard agreement’s usage rights by adding extra possibilities that erase the above-mentioned restrictions, for added flexibility and revenue opportunities.
So, what does the Enhanced License include?
- Unlimited copies for all the print uses accepted in Standard license
- Unrestricted budget for all audiovisual production uses included in Standard agreement
- Ability to use Shutterstock photos in merchandise (for sale or promotional) and digital templates. More info about this in our coverage of where to find images to use in products for resale.
And Enhanced? Given it gives you wider usage rights, it makes sense that images under this agreement come at a higher price point than those under Standard license. Enhanced Licenses are available for any image on Shutterstock’s library, and you can buy them on-demand in Enhanced License Packs starting at $99,50 per image.
You can see all the details in our Shutterstock Pricing explanatory article.
#5. Warranties and Representations
As general as it may appear, this bit of terms is actually rather important! You may have read us before warning you about the dangers of using free photos from Google or the web in your designs (and if you haven’t, you really should!). The main reason free images are so dangerous is that nobody is backing up their legality, so you’re basically at your own risk, and without a lot of information as to how big that risk might be.
This is what gives you full peace of mind when it comes to using these photos in commercial-purposed projects, and what adds a ton of value to Shutterstock’s images and service too.
#6. Indemnization Fee
Another important point to know about Shutterstock License is the terms under which they’ll back up the legality of their images through legal indemnification.
As they lay out in their terms, providing that you abide by all the licensing terms in your use of a Shutterstock image, the agency will indemnify you in the case of legal claims made against the image or your use of them, and the amount of this indemnification depends on which licensing version you purchase:
- Standard License has an indemnification fee of $10,000
- Enhanced License has an indemnification fee of $250,000
In short, this is how you are financially and legally protected when using Shutterstock photos (if you are using them correctly, of course).
However, they also specify that if your misuse of the image results in legal claims against Shutterstock, you will be held accountable and required to indemnify them. This is why it's so important to fully understand their license terms!
If you are unsure of which one of the licensing versions suits you best, Shutterstock adds a bit of help with this comparative list.
The condensed terms help you easily identify which terms would work best for you in terms of cost-benefit and coverage.
I need to make 100,000 flyers to promote my services in a big festival.
License: The number of copies needed for the flyers do not exceed the Standard license's print run limit (you can print up to 500,000 flyers before you need one) – standard license is just OK.
I want to blow up an image for one big billboard in a high-traffic area of my city.
License: Standard License is perfect for this. Despite the big project and its potential results, one billboard is covered.
I wish to use an image in the design of a mobile app that I intend will be used by thousands of people.
License: Regardless of the size of the expected audience, Standard License is good for using images in apps.
I am creating ten big canvases and I want to use Shutterstock images with overlaid text, and I’m selling them to people to decorate their homes.
License: It’s ok to resell the image if it’s altered with text and used in a final product, but only under an Enhanced License, even for 10 items only.
- My client wants me to make a design with an image for business cards, letterheads, envelopes and other minor stationery items for his company. He will be buying this design from me and taking it to another company to print the items.
License: Standard License suits just fine, providing there will be no more than 500,000 prints of this design. The fact you’re selling the final work to one person does not qualify as retail resale, so there is no need for an Enhanced License.
Shutterstock License FAQ
Is Shutterstock a license?
Shutterstock is a stock photo agency, a company selling image licenses via its website.
They do have their own custom, Royalty Free license, which is called the “Shutterstock license”.
How do I get my Shutterstock license?
You sign up for an account on the Shutterstock website (this is free), select the image you want, pay for it online, and hit the download button. Every time you download an image from Shutterstock, a Shutterstock license for that image is automatically issued to your name (the name that appears on your account). And it's legally binding.
Can I use Shutterstock images commercially?
Yes, you can. All images on Shutterstock (except for those marked as “editorial use only”) can be used for commercial purposes. With a standard license, you can use images for marketing and advertising only. With an Extended license, you can also use the images in products for resale.
What is a Shutterstock standard license?
It is the license included by default with all images on Shutterstock. A flexible license that gives you the right to use the pictures in various marketing, advertising, and creative projects, for as long as you want, in as many designs as you want, and worldwide, for an affordable one-time fee.
Design Bankable Creative Visuals with Shutterstock Images
Now you’ve learned all you need to know about Shutterstock License to get squeeze the value out of its stock photos and play safe regarding usage and coverage, you have it all to start downloading images from Shutterstock and creating awesome visual content for your business or project!
Last but not least, grab these useful tips for buying Shutterstock images:
- You can sign up for free at Shutterstock and explore their massive library
- You can learn it all about the company in our Shutterstock review
- You can try Shutterstock for free for 30 days!
- You can save up to 15% on your photos using our special Shutterstock Coupon Code.
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