When browsing stock photos on a site like Shutterstock, it helps to understand which images are available for commercial or editorial use. If you click on an image, you can see more information about the license and copyright. Stock photos for commercial use can be incorporated into a product, service, ad campaign, or almost any scenario.
On the other hand, editorial stock photography cannot be used for commercial ends. At Shutterstock, you'll see that editorial images are marked "Editorial Use Only", which means that they can only be used for news or informational purposes. Many of these photos feature celebrities, public figures, and products, so they cannot be licensed commercially. However, if you're a journalist penning a story about an upcoming film or product announcement, then you have the right to use editorial stock photos that complement your writing. This also applies to non-fiction books and documentaries.
However, if a photo is not explicitly marked with the "editorial" label, then it is probably intended for commercial use. This means you can use the image for merchandise, ads, product packaging, and any other for-profit activities. Stock photos for commercial use can be broken down into two main categories: direct and indirect.
Direct use involves harnessing an image for clear-cut financial reasons, such as an ad campaign or product branding. Meanwhile, indirect use refers to content that raises awareness of a business, whether it be via helpful blog tips or holiday greetings. Here, the product may not be at the forefront, but the stock photos are clearly helping your business in an indirect way. Even promotional merchandise given away for free is a commercial act, since you're still trying to raise brand awareness and increase revenue.
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