Are Shutterstock images copyrighted? Shutterstock is a well-known platform providing high-quality stock pictures, videos, music, and more.

It’s a popular resource for creative professionals, marketers, and media organisations needing visual content.

But how do copyright rules apply to these assets? Are pictures copyrighted? The short answer is yes, they are.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the subject, explaining how¬†licensing works, how you can legally use their pictures, and what potential pitfalls to avoid in order to respect copyright laws and creators’ rights. Let’s get started!

Are Shutterstock Images Copyrighted?

Yes, photos from Shutterstock are copyrighted. When a photographer takes a photo, they automatically own the copyright to that picture.

By uploading their pictures to Shutterstock, photographers grant Shutterstock the right to license these pictures to users under certain terms and conditions.

Shutterstock operates on a subscription basis where users can purchase licenses to use images. There are two primary types of licenses: Standard and Enhanced.

  1. Standard License: Allows you to use pictures in digital advertisements, websites, blogs, presentations, video productions, and podcasts.
  2. Enhanced License: Allows you to use pictures for merchandise, print advertisements, billboards, and more.

Even after purchasing a license, the copyright of the pictures remains with the original photographer.

What you are purchasing is a license to use the picture, not ownership of the image itself.

Any use of the picture outside the terms of the purchased license could constitute a copyright infringement.

It’s also important to note that some pictures may require additional permissions for use, particularly if they contain recognisable people or privately-owned properties.

So, always be sure to check and comply with all licensing terms and conditions.

Can We Use Stock Photos for Commercial Purposes?

Yes, you can use stock photos for commercial purposes, but the specific usage depends on the type of license you have acquired.

Standard License

Most stock photo agencies, including Shutterstock, offer a standard license that allows the use of pictures for certain commercial purposes, like in digital advertisements, websites, blogs, presentations, and more.

However, this license usually comes with restrictions, such as not allowing use in items for resale (like t-shirts, mugs, etc.).

Extended or Enhanced License

For broader commercial use, such as in merchandise for sale, large print runs, or extensive digital use, you would need to purchase an extended or enhanced license.

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This type of license comes with fewer restrictions and allows for more extensive commercial use.

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Limitations for Using Shutterstock Images

  1. Limited Distribution: The standard license allows a certain number of reproductions or impressions. If you plan on distributing on a larger scale, you would need to purchase an Enhanced License.
  2. No Redistribution: You cannot distribute an image to others, either for free or for sale. The picture can only be used by the licensee and cannot be shared.
  3. No Use in Trademark or Logo: Shutterstock pictures cannot be used as part of a trademark, service mark, or logo. This is because you do not own exclusive rights to the image, and it may be used by others as well.
  4. Restricted Use in Physical Items for Resale: Under a standard license, you cannot use images on physical items for resale, like t-shirts or mugs. An Enhanced License is needed for this type of use.
  5. Limited Usage in Sensitive Topics: Shutterstock pictures cannot be used in a way that portrays any person depicted in the image in a way that may be offensive, including in connection with adult content, tobacco products, political endorsements, and more.
  6. Additional Permissions for Recognisable People/Places: If a picture contains recognisable people or private property, you might need additional permissions for certain uses, even if you’ve purchased a license.


In conclusion, Shutterstock pictures are indeed copyrighted, with ownership of the copyright remaining with the original photographer.

When you purchase a image, you’re actually buying a license to use the image within the bounds of that license agreement, not the picture itself.

These licenses are designed to protect the rights of the creator while providing you with the flexibility to use the image for various purposes, depending on whether you choose a Standard or Enhanced License.

It’s essential to understand and respect these licensing agreements to avoid infringing on the copyrights of the picture creators.

Always ensure you adhere to the terms and conditions of your chosen license, and seek legal advice when in doubt.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Shutterstock images copyrighted?

Yes, Shutterstock images are copyrighted. The copyright remains with the original photographer, even after the image is licensed for use.

What does a Shutterstock license allow me to do?

A Shutterstock license permits you to use the image in specific ways, depending on the type of license.

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A Standard License generally allows use in digital media, presentations, and more, while an Enhanced License allows for broader commercial use, including merchandise.

Do I own a Shutterstock picture once I buy a license?

No, purchasing a license does not give you ownership of the picture. The copyright remains with the original photographer.

The license gives you permission to use the image within the terms of the license.

Can I get in trouble for using a Shutterstock pictures incorrectly?

Yes, if you use a Shutterstock picture outside the terms of your license, you could be infringing on the copyright of the image and could face legal repercussions.

Always make sure you understand and comply with the terms of your license.