Usage and licensing of stock art can certainly be confusing. All images are protected by copyright law, so it is imperative that you have a license or other permission to use any images that are not in the “public domain” (a phrase given to images or other works that are not owned or controlled by anyone). Otherwise, you could be violating federal copyright laws.
Of course, any time you have a legal question or need clarity, you should confer with an attorney for expertise advise and that includes using stock art in your company’s marketing or other materials. But in very general terms, you need to have permission or a license for every photo or graphic used on your website, printed materials, or other digital materials.
When it comes to stock art, there are two main types of licensing available: rights managed and royalty free.
Rights Managed Stock Art Licensing
With rights managed licensing, your use of an image is usually restricted to a particular type of use (number of printed copies, type of media used on, geographic region distributed to, etc.), or to a limited time period of usage.
Royalty Free Stock Art Licensing
On the other hand, with royalty free stock art, you often get nearly unlimited use of the image — you can often use it across different media, for an unlimited period of time, etc. With royalty free licensing, you usually pay a fee for the license, but then do not have to pay additional “royalty” fees for continued use.