Using stock photos in newspapers


Prince Lobel Tye LLP

A trusted business advisor to editors and marketing staff regarding First Amendment and media law, contributes to the NENPA Media Law Hotline.

New England Newspaper Media Law Hotline 888-428-7490

My paper has a subscription to a stock house, and I'd like to use a stock photo of a person climbing the front steps of a triple-decker to illustrate an article about new housing that does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Are there any issues that I should consider before I use the photo?

There are several legal issues to consider when using stock photos that feature models, and when using photos to illustrate a potentially sensitive topic. First, is your use of the photo in line with the stock house's license terms? Second, could your use of the photo give rise to a claim by the model for defamation or a violation of the model’s rights of privacy or publicity?

The stock house's terms are typically detailed in a licensing guidelines section on the stock house’s website and in the invoice you receive when you purchase an image. Watch out for the following types of restrictions:

  • Limits on the number of reprints or page views allowed under a standard license. Stock houses often require that you purchase a supplemental license for prints or views that exceed the allotted number.
  • Restrictions concerning the use of photos in connection with sensitive subjects such as health issues, crime, sexual activities, and sometimes even sexual orientation. Some stock houses prohibit such uses altogether, while others allow the use of photos in these contexts so long as you include a disclaimer.
  • Photo credits. Most stock houses require that you include a photo credit. You should check on the preferred format, and at a minimum include the name of the photographer and the stock house.
  • Editorial versus commercial uses. If your use might be considered to be advertising, make sure that the license permits commercial uses of the photo.

Of course, this list of restrictions is not exhaustive. Each stock house has its own set of rules for each type of license, so it’s important that you are familiar with those relevant to your subscription and the photo you plan to use.

In addition to potential liability to the stock house, you should consider the possibility of a claim brought by the model featured in the photo. The risk of a libel or invasion of privacy claim may depend on the context in which you publish the photo, and may be affected by whether the model has signed a release. In this example, the use of the photo in the context of an article about ADA compliance could be construed to falsely imply that the person in the photo has a disability, which some courts might deem to be potentially defamatory. Some stock houses offer a separate database of photos for which they guarantee that model releases have been obtained. If you intend to use a photo to illustrate a story about a sensitive issue, stick to these databases and, at the very least, ensure that the model has signed a release that protects you against the possible risks. Ask the stock house to provide you with a copy of the model release, so that you can make sure that it is sufficiently broad to cover your intended use.

The Media Law Hotline is a service offered free of charge to NENPA members in good standing, and is staffed by the media and intellectual property lawyers at the Boston law firm of Prince Lobel Tye LLP. You can reach the NENPA Hotline (operated by media lawyers at Prince Lobel Tye), at 1-888-428-7490 or by email at


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