Education, Licensing, Pro Tips

What is “Sensitive Use” with Stock Media? Exploring Its Impact and Guidelines


Stock media is crucial in helping filmmakers, advertisers, and creatives bring their visions to life. However, content creators must be aware of ethical and legal considerations when using stock media. One of these considerations is “Sensitive Use.” Here, we’ll delve into the concept of “Sensitive Use” with stock media, why it matters, and how to navigate it effectively.


What is “Sensitive Use”?

“Sensitive Use” is a term that refers to the utilization of stock media in a project that could potentially be offensive, controversial, or distressing to the actual model depicted in the content or to specific groups and individuals. The scope of “Sensitive Use” is broad and can vary from one project to another. Simply put, what may be appropriate for one context might not be in another. For example, a model may be the perfect fit for an advertisement promoting baseball hats but entirely unsuitable for an ad endorsing hemorrhoid cream. The difference lies in the use of the content and its message.

Man Wearing Baseball Cap, Portrait by PhotoAlto.

The duality of an image being appropriate in one context and not another draws parallels to a film psychology concept known as the Kuleshov Effect. The Kuleshov Effect is named after the Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov, who conducted an experiment to demonstrate how the emotional meaning of a shot can change depending on the shot that precedes it. The Kuleshov Effect highlights how juxtaposing shots can manipulate the audience’s emotions and interpretations by creating contextual meaning. This parallel holds true for stock footage used in an advertisement or a stock photo used on product packaging. For example, an agency might use this video clip of seniors playing a game outside in an ad for a retirement home. However, if they use it in an advertisement for a medication to treat illness or disease, that could fall under “Sensitive Use.”

Senior People Bowling In Nature For Retirement Sports, Teamwork by Peopleimages.

Another example is this stock photo of people partying. Using it on a poster for a nightclub would not be sensitive. However, in a magazine ad for a contraceptive, it could fall under “Sensitive Use.”

Image Of Happy Couple Having Fun In The Night Club by pressmaster.


How to Determine if Your Project Involves Sensitive Use

The scenarios where “Sensitive Use” comes into play are relatively rare. However, they are most commonly associated with specific industries and project types. These include pharmaceuticals, public service announcements (PSAs), and political advertisements. To determine whether your project could fall under “Sensitive Use,” consider the following criteria:

Depiction of Physical or Mental Condition: Does your content show individuals suffering from or under treatment for a physical or mental ailment? If so, it might be considered “Sensitive Use.”

Endorsement of Controversial Products or Services: Does the content imply that the model endorses violence, nudity, or other controversial products or services? These use cases could potentially categorize it as “Sensitive Use.”

Political Affiliation: Is the model positioned as an advocate or opponent of any elected official, political candidate, party, or belief? If your content hints at any political association, it could be viewed as “Sensitive Use.”

Negative Opinion or Association: Is the content depicting the model negatively or controversially or associating them with contentious issues? Characterizing a model this way can also fall under the “Sensitive Use.”


Navigating “Sensitive Use” with Premium Licenses

If your project aligns with one or more of the “Sensitive Use” criteria, no problem. Pond5 offers a solution through premium licenses that allow the use of stock content in these situations. Therefore, you can proceed with your project even if it may portray the subject less favorably.

It’s important to note that the license agreement does not prohibit using commercial content in an obviously satirical production. This leeway provides some flexibility in creative expression while respecting the ethical considerations associated with sensitive use.

Couple With With Fake Mustache And Lips. Having Fun. Photo Booth Concept by Tverdokhlib.



“Sensitive Use” encompasses the responsible and ethical use of stock content in situations that could potentially be offensive or upsetting to the models depicted and specific groups of people. While “Sensitive Use” scenarios are often rare, by adhering to the guidelines outlined by Pond5 and considering whether your project meets specific criteria related to sensitive use, you can ensure that your content is ethically sound and legally compliant.

When faced with “Sensitive Use,” remember that premium licenses allow you to use stock content in these scenarios. Pond5’s commitment to helping you navigate sensitive use ensures you can realize your creative vision while respecting all individuals involved. If you’re unsure whether your project falls into this category or need assistance selecting the proper license, Pond5’s dedicated team is just a call or email away. Call +1 (855) 410-6789 or email, and we’ll gladly help.