The key to successfully using licensed content for your service is to clarify the appropriate usage. Some content owners – like sports teams – require an annual license to be purchased, as well as the payment of a percentage of the sale price. These content owners usually restrict the number of licenses given out, to keep supply in step with demand. As such, these owners are also very diligent in searching for and prosecuting infringers.
On the other hand, there are many sources of licensed images that can be used for a variety of purposes. Photographers can sell their images to stock photo agencies, like iStockPhoto and Getty Images, who turn around a market the photographers images. If you want to offer a line of Grand Canyon themed coffee mugs, for example, just log on to one of these services and do a search. You may be shocked by the high quality of the available images. Stock photography is a very competitive market, and buyers can find great content easily.
Generally speaking, licensed photos come in two flavors: Royalty-free and rights-managed. A royalty-free image license is purchased outright, and the buyer has nearly unlimited use (based on the license agreement). Rights-managed images have more restrictions, including license duration, geography, industries or even products. A rights-managed image license, for example, may expire after one year and be used only on products within a specific country.
Just keep in mind: Even if you have a license to reproduce an image, you have not necessarily purchased the copyright. (Laws differ by country, so check your local laws.) For example, a low-resolution image may be licensed by a photographer for web use, but that same image may not be available for printing on a T-shirt. Or the photographer may charge substantially more different uses. (The greater the exposure the image will get, the more it may cost.) In any case, you aren’t buying the image, just the rights to use it for your products.
As a printer or a retailer, if you choose to use stock images or characters when designing a template for product personalization you should be aware our software offers you options (like locking an element or an entire page theme) to help you respect licensing conditions. It might look like a bit of trouble to do, but using licensed content can generate a greater markup and help you differentiate your service.
If you only want to offer access to such images for your end users, it is also helpful to know several stock-image providers are now offering an API option to enable you to connect your e-commerce platform to their images inventory. For example, Fotolia is offering that kind of service.