Community, Pro Tips

Your Guide to Royalty-Free Licensing


Understanding the ins and outs of licensing creative content to use in your video, film, and marketing projects can seem challenging. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about royalty-free licensing and selecting the right choice for your project in a simple, straightforward way.

Watch the video below for a quick rundown and read on for further details:


Royalty-Free Licensing Explained

Getting a royalty-free license means you’re able to use the content you purchase without having to pay the original artist every time it’s used — which is the case with other kinds of licenses — as long as it’s used in a way that is covered by your license type. Different royalty-free licenses include different levels of legal protection, such as indemnity (more on that below), as well as flexibility to fit any team or project.

When you get “worldwide use of media in perpetuity,” you have the right to use your purchased assets anywhere on the planet, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, for the rest of time. Again, this is only true if you’re using the asset in a way that is covered by your license type.

You cannot, however, use licensed content for logos or trademarks unless you purchase a special license that allows for these provisions.


Editorial Content vs. Commercial Use

When you’re licensing media, commercial use means you’re using the content for your own (or your client’s or company’s) benefit, such as advertising, promotional, or merchandising uses.

Editorial use, on the other hand, is typically thought of as non-advertising use in published articles, non-commercial films or documentaries, news reports, or textbooks. Use in blog posts can get a bit confusing, but a good guideline is that using the asset for illustrative or educational purposes is likely editorial use.


Understanding Download Use

You’ll notice that our licenses specify the number of individuals in your organization who can use the download you purchase. This restriction generally applies to the process of editing and access to the raw file – if you’re the only person in your organization who is going to edit the file or touch the raw file in any way, you only need access for 1 individual. If more than 1 person is going to edit the file, an Extended License will allow you to give access to those individuals as well.


Indemnification and When You Need It

When you’re choosing your license, you’ll most likely note that licenses are available “with options to add increased legal protection and additional users.” This is where it starts to get into a bit of legal-ese, so let’s break it down: when we say “legal protection,” we usually mean “indemnity.”

Indemnity means that one party pays the expenses of the other party if some legal expenses arise. These expenses may include things like the cost of settlements. This is particularly useful if you’re creating content for clients, as neither you nor your client will have to spend time embroiled in any legal issues. You’ll be free to continue to focus on creating great content.


Using Digital-Only Licenses

If you’re only purchasing content for projects that will be exclusively featured online, a digital-only license is the way to go. Digital-only refers to the distribution of high-resolution licensed assets across social media and the internet and nowhere else.

For some projects, you might only need distribution of those high-resolution assets across specific social or web channels, as opposed to wider, national, or global distribution. For example, if you want to put your video project only on YouTube instead of Netflix, you might save some money by looking into a digital-only license for those assets.


When You Need “Sensitive-Use” Content

If you’re using licensed content in certain ways, there’s a chance it could be a “sensitive use” case, which requires a Premium license. To determine if your project involves sensitive use, ask yourself if it would make a reasonable person believe that the subject of your presentation meets any of these criteria:

  • Are they depicted as suffering from or being treated for a physical or mental condition?
  • Are they implied to be endorsing a particular product or service?
  • Are they being positioned as an advocate of an elected official, political candidate, party, or belief?
  • Are they being depicted as having a potentially negative/controversial opinion or association?

If the answer is “yes” to any of the above, that representation could result in the subject being shown in a not-so-great way. Common examples of this include pharmaceutical or political ads. It’s kind of like that episode of Friends when Joey finds his face on a poster that implies he has a venereal disease. While he might have originally agreed to have his image licensed for stock photography, the organization behind the VD awareness poster would have needed to make sure they had a license for “sensitive use” of his image. Learn more about sensitive use for stock video


Template Use and Watermarked Previews

Downloading watermarked preview files is a great way to try out different content to see what works best in your project, but you are not allowed to use these previews in finished projects. Previews of full-resolution files aren’t considered licensed content, so you don’t have permission (and are not covered) to use the preview version of any of these assets in front of an audience. Preview files exist only for your personal use in deciding which files you want to purchase.

Meanwhile, “template use” refers to anything that can be replicated. Common examples of this can be apps, video games, or anything where a code can be downloaded to a device. Other examples include using the asset to create another element, like a Paperless Post invite, (where you create another element), PowerPoint templates, or themes for Google Docs. If you’re doing any of these things, you’re replicating the asset across different devices, so you’ll need a special license for that.


The Benefits of Choosing the Right License

A good guideline when determining which type of license you need is to first look at who the content is for, where it’s being distributed, and who the audience is. That way, when you purchase your license, you’re also getting peace of mind, knowing that you’re protecting yourself, your business, and your clients. For information on the licenses offered by Pond5, check out our licenses here or click below!

Related Post How to Choose the Right Royalty-Free License on Pond5