How to use Stock Photos Legally on your WordPress Website

Life would be so easy if we could copy images from Google and use them as we like. However, such an action will likely result in legal trouble. So how do you get stock photos legally with no risk of court trouble later on for your WordPress website?

The answer is using licensed photographs. But keep in mind that licenses may also have limitations, and you may be forced to use an image with certain restrictions. 

The key is to read the user agreement carefully before signing off on it. Let’s take a closer look at how these licenses work.   

What are the license types? 

There are several license types available for photos. These licenses vary in the extent of the use of these images and the frequency of their usage. 

Let’s learn more about these licenses. 

Rights Managed

A right managed license only allows predefined uses of an image. The price for the license depends on the variables related to the photographs used. Any use of the photos beyond the terms is not allowed. 

Your stock photo provider may consider the following factors before pricing the license for the image. 

  • The resolution of the image required. 
  • The geographical location of the image’s placement.
  • The time period for the usage of the image. 
  • Whether the image is used for personal or commercial purposes. 

Rights-managed images are ideal for commercial campaigns, which may run for a brief period on your blog or website. The images may cost a bit more than other options, but it is worthwhile as long as they help achieve the desired outcome. 


You can use royalty-free images for personal and commercial campaigns any number of times. Their license fee is based on the resolution of the image you acquire. The higher the quality, the more the image will cost.

There are certain restrictions with these images which you should be aware of before opting for them. 

  • You cannot use the image for a trademark or logo. 
  • It cannot be redistributed for commercial purposes. 
  • You cannot gift it to a third party. 
  • It cannot be used for adult or pornographic purposes. 
  • Any person in the picture cannot be portrayed in a negative light.
  • Any model or establishment in the image should not appear to be endorsing a product or service.   

Extended License

The name is pretty self-explanatory. You need to pay once for using these images, just like royalty-free images. However, there are two added advantages to this license type. 

  • These can be used in products, such as Mugs and T-shirts for sale.
  • There is no restriction on its number of prints and uses. 

The extended license is one of the best available licenses that help in the development of commercial campaigns. Just be careful not to overkill with the same images. You don’t want your blog looking like every other one in your niche.  

Creative Commons 

Creative Commons is an organization that provides image licenses for free. You can quickly get images from creative commons for any project. It is probably the best way to use stock photos legally. 

Just be sure to read the license. There are several different license types available under creative commons, and you may need to follow certain restrictions. You may be required to provide attribution for the photographer when using the snap. 

Fair Use Doctrine

You can use some images under the fair use policy available in the U.S. Copyrights Act. You can use them to add value, such as using them for educational purposes, commenting on events, or even adding satire. You do not need permission or a license in fair use.

Some factors should be considered to determine if the user is indeed fair. These factors include:  

  • The purpose of your use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work 
  • The amount of the portion taken
  • The effects on the potential market (the value of the image should not decrease with the use)

Getting more information from an expert or a Copyright official may help more. The language about fair usage is somewhat lax and is very much open to interpretation. So it’s a case of better safe than sorry.  

Is Attribution Always Necessary? 

Attribution to the photographer is not required in the case of Rights Managed or Royalty-free images unless there is a clause in the user contract. There is no harm if you give the attribution to the photographer anyway. It is an excellent way to show your appreciation for the photographer. 

Should you Use Images from Free Stock Photo Websites? 

Using stock images from free photo websites is generally safe.  However, the problem with many of these sites is that they do not have proper checks in place to guarantee the images are from the copyright holders. So if you end up using a stolen image, you can land in legal trouble. 

Also, you should avoid using images from free websites where people can be recognized. Take the case of Simon Palmer who faced legal action after using an image from Unsplash. He used an image where a person was recognizable and the Unsplash license didn’t cover photos of people.

A safer alternative is to  purchase stock photos from places like Shutter Stock and Stock Photo Secrets. They  offer high-quality licensed images at convenient prices. And you don’t have to worry about using these images for commercial purposes, depending on their license. These agencies employ professionals to ensure the photos are from copyright holders.

Below are some pointers to help you decide which pictures are ideal for you. 

  • To begin with, always choose the images that are more relevant to your project. Expensive images may not be suitable every time. 
  • Read the licenses carefully. You must have permission for the intended use of the picture. Otherwise, it’s of no use to you even if it’s paid for. 
  • Anyone can submit pictures to free stock photo websites. They may not have the legal rights to those pictures and you can be dragged into legal trouble because of that. Ensure the pictures you select are problem free. 

A Word of Caution

You may need a consent form for using stock photos where models can be easily identified. Many websites only have permission from photographers. The models can take legal action against the eventual user while the party that supplied it remains unharmed. 

It is also essential that the term model has a broader meaning which includes:

  • A distinguishable person or animal
  • A private property 
  • Government buildings 
  • Trademarks or logo 
  • Landmarks

The government or landmark administrators are unlikely to sue you, but they have the legal basis for it. So be careful with your pictures’ selection to avoid potential future legal issues.  


There are multiple ways in which you can use stock photos legally. The critical factor is to understand the licenses and know their limitations. If you’re uncertain, reach out to a legal expert on the matter. 

Just keep in mind that these commercial campaigns on the web often cost a fair bit of money. The last thing you ever want is to run into legal trouble due to the illegal use of stock photos.