Ethics in Advertising, Part 2: Photography Usage

In this series, we’ll discuss laws and rights in relation to advertising elements. Far too many DIY designers, freelancers, social media gurus, and even trained design veterans don’t know the copyright laws surrounding design elements such as imagery. Stamp’s Leigh Farrior is certified in Advertising Ethics by the American Advertising Federation, but please keep in mind that we are marketing professionals, not attorneys. This information is not the same as legal advice. Should you feel you need legal advice, please contact your attorney.

Online Photography & Videography (User-Generated and Stock)

When using photos and/or videos that aren’t custom shot for your use by your organization, there are two main avenues you can take: user-generated or stock. User-generated can often be free to use with permission, and stock is generally paid for (although there are several reputable websites with free imagery available for use). Keep in mind, some creators and virtually all stock image brokers embed metadata in their images with tracking information so they know when and where their image is being used. And without proper permission, you could end up dealing with a financial, legal and/or public relations nightmare. Below are brief overviews of these two options and some legal considerations related to using them.

User-Generated Photography & Videography

When using Google image search, Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms, you may find amazing photos or videos of your destination or attraction taken by all types of people. Wouldn’t it be great to use authentic imagery on your social media and branding materials to show a true visitor’s perspective? According to the Nielsen Consumer Trust Index, 92% of consumers trust user-generated content more than advertising. In addition to this extremely compelling fact, below are a few other reasons:

  • It shows real people, not curated models. Consumers want to “see themselves” when making decisions. This helps represent the true diversity of visitors. 
  • It shows authenticity. Viewers see it how they could really experience a place, versus wondering if they could actually experience what has been pictured in curated images.
  • Friends sell to friends. Not only is the influence of a friend’s suggestion valuable, but creators will most likely share your content featuring their work with their network – providing an “endorsement” of your place and expanding your reach.
  • When budgets are tight, user-generated images can give you a wider (and often more current) image database to select from.

Keep in mind that it is illegal for you to use user-generated images without the creator’s permission (unless purchased through a stock photography website). Plus, if there is a person in the photo, you will need that person to sign a model release or contract with terms

How to get permission for user-generated photography 

You can share somebody else’s post of their photo or video without permission, as long as their account privacy is set to allow it (their post should be set to public, otherwise only their friends can see it). This is very easy on some platforms, like sharing a Facebook post or retweeting on Twitter. On Instagram, you can share someone’s post to your feed or to your story. (This could be a fun “today in our destination” type post to share other’s posts from your destination that day in your story.) With TikTok, you can download their video and share it (add text thanking them for visiting or calling out attractions), or you can duet it (we’d recommend the duet to show interaction and being on the front of one of the newest social media platforms). 

If you’d like to use their imagery in your marketing arsenal, you’ll need to contact the originator of the content for permission. The best way to try and find the creator is to start with where the image is posted. For example, if a Facebook fan shares a photo of your destination, you can message them for permission to share it on your website as your own image. On Flickr, just click the user’s photo and select “message.” 

Direct messaging on social media or websites is great for contacting creators. A sample message could be worded like this:

Hi! I’m [name], and I work with the [CVB or attraction name]. We love the [photo/video] you shared while visiting us. The [photo/video] showed [insert description]. We would love to use your [photo/video] in our marketing efforts. Those efforts could include social media, email, our website, or other avenues. Would you be willing to give us permission to use this image for free or for a small fee? We’d love to chat if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you, [name]

If they agree, you’ll need to have a simple contract and model release for them to sign. We have a simple one you can download at the bottom of this blog entry. And some creators with great user-generated content will also list it for sale on stock websites (see below). In these cases, they may simply refer you to the site where the images reside for you to purchase from there.

Whatever you do, do not use the image if you cannot find the owner or if you do not have written correspondence outlining the terms and an affirmative reply granting usage permission.

Stock Photography & Videography

Keep in mind that it is virtually always free to search for and consider an image for use without seeking permission. And if through this search process you have found an appropriate image that is available through a stock image license, using these images is often as simple as paying the fee associated with how and where you plan to use the image and then downloading it. However, there are also several types of stock images available and laws pertaining to each type when it comes to using stock imagery.

Let’s first discuss some terms in relation to imagery you might find when out searching for photography you could use. The definitions below were created with some help from Wikipedia.

  • Public Domain: consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable.
  • Creative Commons: one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted “work” (may require attribution and may not allow commercial use).
  • Fair Use: permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. 
  • Rights-Managed: in photography and the stock photo industry, refers to a copyright license which, if purchased by a user, allows the one-time use of the photo as specified by the license. You’ll have a contract associated with the imagery for the type of medium where it is used and how many times it can appear on those media.
  • Royalty-Free: subject to copyright or other intellectual property rights, may be used without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use, per each copy or volume sold or some time period of use or sales. 
  • Editorial Use: images cannot be used for advertising or promotional purposes. 

The main thing to consider before deciding to download stock (whether free or purchased), is confirming that the licensing of the image allows for commercial use versus editorial use. Make sure you are using a reputable stock website to ensure it has the proper licensing and model releases attached to the media. 

Examples of free stock sites:

Examples of paid stock sites (subscription and one-off purchases):

We’ve discussed many times in our Insights the benefits of visuals no matter if it’s custom, stock, or user-generated photography and videography. With this 2-part ethics guide (access Part 1 of our Ethics in Advertising: Font Usage here) you can be sure you are selecting the best imagery overall to represent your destination, while doing it in an ethical way.

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