Whether you’re updating your company’s website, social media channels or next big marketing campaign, there’s always a need for a visual element. There are millions of images out there, so why not just use your favorites from a Google Images search? Well, that can get your company into hot water.

In an age of quick access to digital content and easy sharing on social media, it’s more important than ever to be cognizant of rights and licensing. These areas can be a bit confusing, but there are three main areas you need to consider and what you can do for each to ensure that you aren’t stealing by accident.

Images and Illustrations

While there are some free image sites out there, the safest way to ensure that you own the rights to an image is to purchase it through a stock photo site. Each site is different, so be sure to read the license agreement to confirm that the way you’re using the image fits within the limitations. A royalty free image license is often the most flexible. It often allows the image to be used unlimited times by the purchaser. A rights managed license will often give more exclusive rights to the purchaser, but it often stipulates that the image can’t be used more than once.

It has happened: A company purchased the rights to a photo, but only for one-time use. When someone in the company mistakenly thought they could re-use the image, a major stock photography group sued them for fraudulent use of an image.


After going through an expensive branding process with one of the top design firms in the country, one company had extensive brand guidelines that specified exactly which fonts were to be used in their subsequent marketing materials. The problem was that when they worked with other vendors, each vendor had to purchase those boutique fonts from the foundry that created them. High-end fonts are licensed similarly to software in that you must have a license for every computer that has that font installed. These can easily run into the thousands of dollars for a full type family.

The best way to avoid having to license fonts is to use free open-source fonts, such as are available through Google Fonts. These are available for free, for both personal and commercial work.

Websites, Apps

“I own my website…right?” Well…not necessarily.

Misleading salesmanship at the onset of the project can leave you unwittingly uninformed of what you “own” — and don’t own — when it comes to your website.

Company’s experiencing functionality issues with their website may decide it is time to update it. When they sought a complete copy of the site from the company who had built it, they were surprised to learn that embedded throughout the site was proprietary software coding — essentially holding their site hostage. This precluded the company from being able to obtain their own copy of the site, and they were forced to rebuild it from scratch.

While companies that will build a free website in exchange for low monthly subscription fees may be appealing to organizations with limited budgets, it’s important to consider return on investment (ROI). There may be greater long-term advantage to investing more dollars upfront for outright ownership of your site than choosing a model that restricts your organization to a single vendor or product.

The Takeaway

So how can your organization be proactive?

  1. Talk with the design studio you work with about these areas
  2. Be aware enough to ask informed questions
  3. Choose a design firm that is transparent and will help protect your company
  4. Read and respect the licensing rights of others’ work
  5. Spread the word about these issues in your organization

While this is just a cursory glance at this issue, there are other content areas that require licensing including music, video, and apps. It’s always best to consult your legal counsel if you have detailed questions.

Brett Meliti is a Senior Designer/Project Manager at Dever Designs in Laurel, MD. Contact at [email protected] or 301-776-2812. For more information about Dever Designs, visit deverdesigns.com.