Free Stock Photos Often Come with a Price.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s an adage that, in my personal experience anyway, has proven all too true. Whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal on a pre-owned automobile, a “ground floor” investment opportunity, or the “right around the corner” date when I’ll finally be able to get my COVID-19 vaccine, I’ve learned over the years to take such barely believable opportunities with a grain of salt. This brings me to the promises that companies are making when it comes to the use of stock photography.

The reason I bring this up is that 1) my business relies on the use of stock photography, 2) I’ve been hearing a lot about this lately from my financial industry friends, and 3) I hate seeing people get taken advantage of.

Here’s an example. Right now, many banks and credit unions are promoting their mobile banking and thinking that it’s okay to use a photo of an iPhone with an Apple logo on it. That’s because there are stock photo suppliers out there that will tell you it’s okay. Truth is, it isn’t… okay, that is. Apple states this pretty clearly in their Trademark Guidelines: “Only Apple and its authorized resellers and licensees may use the Apple Logo in advertising, promotional, and sales materials.”  Of course, if your marketing department is planning on using it in your advertising, well, that – as Apple states – is very illegal and could put you in legal jeopardy.  (Note: Any major brand is going to have similar trademark restrictions and you must always remain aware of the fact that such use is commercial use, not personal, and the rights, restrictions and fees associated with commercial use are much different from those that apply to personal use.)

Now, you’ll probably find this amusing. I know I did. I did some research into stock photo websites – their available images, how to use them, how much they cost, etc. – and here are some of the things I found. 

Check out this quote from a site I came across when I conducted a Google search using the phrase “royalty-free images”. This comes from a site that supposedly guides you to the best stock image resources around:

“But don’t fret, my friend! Free stock photos are easy to find if you know where to look. Grab this list of over 80 places to get royalty-free images. However, while there are places to find copyright-free images, you need to understand the legalese to avoid getting into trouble using stock photography that requires additional licensing. We are not saying these sites have 100% risk-free images. What we say is theirs are safer than the rest.”

Not exactly helpful, is it? I found this info on another site that supposedly provides guidance in using stock images:

“No free stock photo site can guarantee the author (the uploader) has the appropriate releases on file, so you have to do that instead and do your own diligent research. Or just stay away from photos that are on thin ice or just flat out dangerous to use and choose more generic ones, with non-identifiable people or property.”

Now, I don’t want to name names, but this quotation is from the License Agreement section of Canva’s website. Canva is a very popular web-based design application that gives you the ability to create your own ad designs utilizing an image resource called Pro Stock Media, which states:

“While we have made reasonable efforts to correctly categorize, keyword, caption and title the Stock Media, Canva does not warrant the accuracy of such information and Canva also does not warrant the accuracy of any metadata that may be provided with the Stock Media. If you want to end this agreement you don’t have to get Arnold Schwarzenegger involved. Just shred any printed copies of the design and delete any files related to the design. We can change this license whenever we want. If anyone takes legal action over any Stock Media you are using, you must stop using the Stock Media, delete or remove the Stock Media, and let us know about it.”

Okay, so now that Canva has made it clear (sort of) that they take no responsibility whatsoever for what they’ve just told you, they’re then going to confuse you further with other parameters that you maybe should or shouldn’t be concerned about:

  • Your final designs can be no larger than 600px by 800px
  • You cannot remove any embedded copyright notices from the stock image.
  • You cannot use the stock images in a way that competes with Canva
  • You cannot use the stock images identified as relating to events that are newsworthy or of general interest and expressly excludes any advertorial sections

We reached out to a couple of the photographers that have photos on Canva and asked them if they have releases on their iPhone photos. We received responses similar to this one: “Unfortunately I don’t, which is why I don’t sell this photo (and instead I give it away for free).”

If all of this sounds confusing, and perhaps even a bit frightening, that’s because it is. What’s really frightening, however, is that with companies like Canva, that tell you that you can use their images without getting sued, well, you can end up getting sued. What do you do then?  Just follow Canva’s advice, “You don’t have to get Arnold Schwarzenegger involved. Just shred any printed copies of the design and delete any files related to the design.” Then, since that advice is completely worthless, get yourself a good lawyer as your bank or credit could be on the proverbial hook for damages; in which case, even Arnold probably won’t be able to help you.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical and compelling communications with your customers and prospective customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. In customizing our layouts, you'll have access to thousands of images. Since we have a relationship with the stock image provider, you can use any image you choose, worry free. To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage –  visit Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


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