January 13, 2017 by Andrew Minalto - 2 Comments

Be Careful When Outsourcing Graphic Design on Fiverr.com!

Outsourcing graphic design work online has never been easier – we have all these freelancing sites available now where we can simply order a logo or banner design with the click of a button. One of such sites that I have always recommended for budget work is fiverr.com

But is it really as simple as it sounds? You pay $5 and get a professional banner design done? Or are there some underlying issues you have to be aware of?

This is exactly what Mark was asking in a recent message to me:

Hi Andy,

You recommend Fiverr so I was hoping you can help clarify something that has gotten me confused.

I’ve had a gig done for me for a banner through Fiverr, however on looking up the image on google images, the background shows as a Getty Images stock photo.

I understand some people have years later had £2k bills land on their doorstep for copyright infringement from Getty so I want to be sure I’m on the right side of the law here.

Are designers allowed to use Getty on Fiverr and when they do does the order constitute a Perpetual Licence for you to use the work on your website?

For example if say years from now Getty come knocking at the door asking for money, will my order be proof I have paid perpetual licence to the designer who must (I assume) have paid Getty to use that image in his design?

Best Regards,
Mark

Thanks for your question Mark!

You have raised a very interesting and important question about graphic design & image licensing and it is a complex one indeed.

To start with, for people who are not aware of this, there are websites online where you can purchase photos, graphics and other art work. Sites like:

The way these sites work is that designers, photographers and graphic artists submit their work on these sites and upon approval they get listed. Then, when someone buys an image from the site, the creator/owner gets paid a fixed fee or a percentage of the sale (depending on the company).

These images are usually called “Royalty FREE” which means that once you buy them, you can use them in various ways. Now, the exact ways of use will depend on the website you bought the image from and their licensing terms. For example most websites allow to use the artwork in graphic design for you and your clients BUT you can’t put the artwork on a product you produce (mugs, for example). For that you would have to buy an extended licence which usually costs $100 or more for each image.

But to keep things simple, let’s just concentrate on web design for now. Most of these sites allow you to use images in any design you do for yourself or your clients. And many freelance graphic designers that work on Fiverr and other site do use these images to create designs for clients.

The important thing here is to check whether that designer has actually BOUGHT the image they’re using in your work or not. As some designers may simply steal images from Google or somewhere else, which could get you in trouble.

So what you can do is simply ask the designer where they got the image used in your work from? And ask them to provide proof (screenshots) that they have actually purchased that image. Now of course, some designers may not want to do that or sometimes it’s even not possible to prove but still – you should ask.

An even safer way would be for you to purchase that image on your own. Yes that’s right, you don’t have to be a graphic designer to buy artwork from stock image websites – anyone can do so. This way you know 100% that you have paid for the image. The only downside to this is that you’ll most likely have to pay a premium price for that image as usually these websites have a sliding price scale, which means that for example:

  • if you buy just one image, it will cost you $10 ($10 per image)
  • If you buy 10 images, it will cost you $50 ($5 per image)
  • If you buy 100 images, it will cost you $200 ($2 per image)

Basically, if you need to purchase just one image, it may be quite expensive. But then again you’ll know 100% that you have full rights to use this image in your designs.

I personally use colourbox.com for all my royalty-free image needs as their pricing is very good when you’re on a subscription plan. Individual images cost 9.5 EUR though but if you need more than one image, you could subscribe for one month, for 30 EUR, get 10 images and then simply cancel your membership. You can then re-activate your membership whenever you need more images.

And to answer Mark’s question about his Fiverr order being proof of purchasing a licence – no, I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Every freelance site will have a disclaimer covering this scenario in their Terms & Conditions – basically they won’t be held responsible if a freelancer screws up and uses an illegal file in your work.

It gets even worse – stock image websites will also have this disclaimer in their Terms & Conditions – that they have very limited liability or no liability at all if it turns out that someone else submitted artwork to them with no rights. So for all intents and purposes, you can’t really rely on any of these companies in that way!

But don’t let this scare you off – if you purchase your own royalty free images OR make sure that your designer has purchased them, the chances of you getting into trouble are very, very slim. I would say that you’re more likely to win a few million in the lottery!

Lastly, make sure you check the licence terms from the site you or your designer purchases images from as some companies will have very specific rules on how you can use them. It’s for this reason actually that I use Colourbox as their licence terms are the best I have found online. They even allow you to use files on manufactured goods, say mugs or t-shirts, without having to pay for an extended licence.

Hope this helps Mark!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Andrew

2 Comments
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  1. I think perhaps the point Mark was making is that most of the time you wouldn’t know if the design you commissioned contained copyright works. It is just that Mark happened to find the background used in his image on a stock image site.

    We are assuming here that the person uploading the image to the stock image site is in fact the true creator or authorised licensee for the creator. It is also likely that the supplier to Getty are not
    the rights holders. It isn’t unheard of for ‘content producers’ on Getty to have ripped off some else’s work.

    Another perhaps more charitable scenario could be that the same producer could be selling their work as stock images as well as using them as part of composite works such as that created for Mark. In other words the same producer could have multiple outlets for their work not just one exclusive place.

    To remain safe it would be a good idea to ask the producer to provide a disclaimer that states that the work is all their own original work and that any material incorporated from a 3rd party is appropriately licensed for re-use in new images.

    It has to be said that Copyright Infringement is a civil matter, not a criminal one. This means that a copyright owner can only seek damages not a punitive fine. In this case the original picture is being offered with a royalty free license for a relatively modest fee. As a result the copyright owner can only claim for the lost revenue of you not having purchased the license. You are not selling the image or causing the original creator to loose income from sales by offering free copies of it.

    In addition they have to provide evidence that they are the rights owner or at least a reasonable expectation. Now for example if I am from Getty Images and claim that I am the rights holder for that lovely picture of the photogenic Andrew at the top of this page. I can’t just take Andrew to court claiming £5000 for such an outstanding photo. One way that Andrew could easily counter that claim is to produce an original hi-resoloution copy where as I only have a small cropped image.

    Anyway you can see just how complicated the whole thing is and court action is the last thing anyone wants to deal with. The stock companies rely on the possibility of legal proceedings to frighten most people.

    The situation is however more straightforward than that in reality. Usually a rights holder will contact you and if you believe there is a good possibility that their claim to copyright is genuine then simply be reasonable and either remove the infringing image or pay their modest license fee to keep it if you prefer. In almost every case that will be the end of the matter, especially from legitimate stock image providers.

    There may be a few trolls who’s business models rely on trying to frighten people into paying large royalty fees for infringement, my advice would be just to ignore them, they are not in the business of taking people to court for a few hundred pounds of potential royalty awards. They are simply counting on enough people being scared enough to pay up.

    Any reputable stock photo company or content producer is only going to go after persistent infringers or those that they can reasonably prove substantial loss of income from in court.

    Put simply

    1. Do your best to ensure you are staying above board as best you can.
    2. Be reasonable in your dealings with rights holders.
    3. Sleep easy and don’t take any notice of threats.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Many Thanks for your comment Darren, great advice! 🙂

      Andrew

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