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Did you know that you could get fined for misuse of any online content that doesn't belong to you? You've probably heard about it. What you may not know is that licensing requirements apply to all types of content, not just photos or music. Whether you're using software, fonts, icons, or graphic designs, make sure you have right to use them.
There are different types of licensing, and each has unique characteristics. Failing to comply with licensing requirements can result in hefty fines and penalties. If you're a business owner, it could harm your brand and reputation. In the worst scenario, you could end up in court.
Types of Licensing
Software companies have strict policies on how customers may use their products. Microsoft, for instance, conducts regular audits worldwide to ensure its software is not being misused. It's not unusual for individuals and even businesses to download Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows, and other programs for which they don't have a license.
However, software applications are not the only ones subject to the rules of licensing. Whether we're talking about pictures, drawings, or text, all types of content fall under these regulations. That includes artwork and graphic designs too.
Let's say you found a cool design that would look amazing on T-shirts, backpacks, or coffee mugs. Determine how you're going to use the content. Check the licensing requirements and contact the owner if something seems unclear.
Now let's have a look at the main types of licensing:
What Is a Personal Use License?
A personal use license will grant you the right to use the content for personal purposes. For example, you can print it out and hang it on your walls, print it on your favorite T-shirt, or customize a laptop bag that you're going to offer as a gift. You're free to use the design however you want as long as you don’t make a profit out of it.
Beware that personal use licenses are meant to be used by individual persons. This means you cannot use the content as part of your advertising campaigns and other business-related activities. Basically, it's illegal to print the design on billboards, promotional items, or even on your team's coffee mugs.
In general, this type of license has the same features as a commercial one. The difference lies in its ownership and transfer options.
How Does a Commercial Use License Work?
What if you want to print that cool design on promotional pens, calendars, notebooks, or coffee mugs? Perhaps you want to use it on your website or in your ad campaigns? In this case, you need a commercial license. This option appeals to business entities and can be used by any single person within the company.
For example, if you sell T-shirts on Amazon or Etsy, you may print the design on your products - but only as long as you have a commercial use license. This type of licensing grants you the right to use content or images in a manner that is intended for promotional, advertising, commercial, or merchandising purposes. A commercial use license is usually registered in the name of a business entity
A solopreneur or a business that has employees will be required to purchase a license for each user unless they have been authorized by the management to act on the company's behalf in regard to it.
If your staff posts pictures on the company's Facebook page, for instance, they don’t require individual licenses. However, they cannot post those images on their personal Facebook pages or use them for personal benefit.
Nowadays, most artists and software providers offer several types of licensing for their work, including multi-user licenses that can be used by more than one person. There are also licenses designed for students and non-profits.
As an example, here's a couple links to some of the different types of licenses offered by design websites:
DesignBundles - Creative Market - The Hungry JPEG
Research your options in order to make an informed decision. Violating licensing requirements isn’t just illegal but unethical too. Think about how much work and effort went into that design or photo. How would you feel if someone stole your product photos or blog posts?
Thanks so much for reading about the difference between the types of licenses! I hope you found this post useful - let me know in the comments! If you want to save this page, I made it easy with this pin-able image.
Hi, I just found your page. This post was 2018, but I was wondering how this would apply to a person who is just about to start selling on etsy? For example if I want to make a calendar printable with one non-photo graphic, and sell it as a calendar. Is that ok? I’m not a businesa, I’m just doing this to get a little extra money.
Thanks so much, I hope you see this!
Hi! My advice would be to read the license on the graphic you are wanting to use and make sure you have the rights to do that. For sites like Creative Market or Design Bundles, their license states that you can use their images for that purpose as long as they aren’t easily extractable from the finished product. So essentially you’ll want to combine elements by layering them, changing colors, or generally transforming it into something new. That way when someone purchases your calendar, they aren’t also getting a free image they can extract.
Even if you don’t buy images from Design Bundles, these links explain the license really in depth, and it’s very similar to how image licenses typically work:
I hope this answers your question, but if not, please let me know!!