A logo is the branded, identifying mark of an artist or business that should have a prominent place on your website, printed materials, and social media accounts. A logo should be simple, dynamic and unique. The importance of a logo to your brand and the importance of it being well-designed means that coming up with an effective image may be quite difficult. This can make it tempting to use already-existing graphics and photos from stock image websites. Although it may seem easier to choose pre-existing work, stock images should never be used in a logo.
What are Stock Images?
Stock images are royalty-free photos and graphics that can be licensed by companies and individuals in lieu of hiring a professional photographer or graphic designer. Stock images, depending on what sort of rights come with their licenses, can be quite useful for several things, such as website fillers and use on printed marketing materials. However, logos should never include stock images – not even artistically altered pieces of stock images. Common sources include iStockPhoto.com, Stocksy.com, BigStockPhoto.com, Shutterstock.com, and a variety of free sources.
Why Can’t I Use One?
Using a stock image in part or whole in a logo violates most content usage agreements and can result in hefty fines. Royalty-free image sharing sites such as Stocksy.com, Shutterstock.com and Bigstock.com (to name a few) prohibit users from using whole or partial images in logos in their standard user agreement and even in their more premium, extended licenses.
Here’s an excerpt from Bigstock.com’s Standard Content Usage Agreement that is pretty comparable to that of many other royalty-free image sharing websites:
Part II, j. Incorporate Images on letterhead and business cards, pamphlets, brochures, and catalogs provided that Images are not used as a logo or trademark, and further provided that no individual Image is reproduced more than 250,000 times in the aggregate
Part III, 16. (YOU MAY NOT) Use any Content (in whole or in part) as a trademark, service mark, logo, or other indication of origin, or as part thereof, or to otherwise endorse or imply the endorsement of any goods and/or services
Part IV, 33. Bigstock grants no rights and makes no representations or warranties with respect to the use of any names, trademarks, service mark, logotypes, copyrighted designs or works of art or architecture depicted in any Content. It is your responsibility to assure that all necessary rights, consents, or permissions that may be required for your use of any Content are obtained.
https://www.bigstockphoto.com/usage.html (last accessed 5/5//2017)
The uniqueness of your logo is important to set your brand apart from competing brands to ensure individuality and reduce consumer confusion with potentially too-similar logos. When you have a unique logo that you love, it is important to trademark it so that another company cannot use it (or a very similar design) as their own. The problem with using stock images in a logo is that you cannot copyright or trademark an image from a stock image service – in part or whole. You do not own the image or have any legal claim to it or designs incorporating pieces of it. Buying an online license to use an image does not grant you exclusive ownership – in fact, it expressly does not give you exclusive rights to trademark an image. Nor does your user license prevent hundreds of thousands, potentially millions, of other people from also licensing it out and using said image in various ways.
Royalty Free Stock images are available to everyone on the internet. Therefore, an individual image might be used by just you– or it could be used by hundreds or thousands of people. There is no way a stock image can be unique to your business. You can test this yourself – take a stock image and drop it into a reverse Google Image Search – you’ll see exactly how many other people and businesses out there are using the very same image you so painstakingly selected. While that isn’t so much of a bad thing if you’re using such an image as a placeholder on your website… it’s definitely not a desirable situation if that image is one that you’ve adopted as your logo – something that is supposed to set your brand apart from the masses.
It is also very important, should you choose to hire a designer to make your logo, that you ensure your new logo is an original design, and not a royalty-free image. If you have doubts, you can easily do one those handy reverse Google Image Searches to determine if the image was honestly created. You are not legally protected if you were unaware of your logo breaking licensing agreements or copyright laws.
To sum it up, the Arts Spark team discourages using stock images in logos as the resulting logos are not legally owned by you and have no hope of being trademarked. Additionally, their uniqueness is in doubt due to the widespread distribution of stock images on the web. Most importantly, using stock images violates most user agreements and will subject you to highly inconvenient, avoidable fines and legal legwork. If you’re having trouble coming up with a logo, it’s always good to find a reputable graphic designer, with a portfolio of work you like, that will work with you to create the best possible unique image to represent your brand.
Sources (last accessed 5/5/17):