Are Your Graphics Legal? A Crash Guide to Licensing
Almost every single marketing project we have ever worked on uses previously-designed fonts, stock imagery, or other assets like graphics, templates, or music. Or even all of the above. Microbusinesses and global brands alike use free or very low priced assets for websites, books, social media graphics, logos, and even in emails. With more beautiful fonts, graphics, and templates available to us every single day, we are spoiled for choice. So here’s a crash guide to licensing.
Because can you say you know for sure that ALL of your assets are legal? Have you checked the licensing of the fonts, imagery, and music you use in your marketing?
Sites like DaFont bring an amazing repertoire of fonts to our disposal to use on our marketing. The problem is, you might find amazing fonts, but it doesn’t mean you can use the same fonts commercially. (Not even “just” for social media or a “simple” business site.)
The same concept applies to stock images, file templates, “free” music, and other assets you might want to use in your marketing materials.
What is a Licence?
A licence is essentially the terms and conditions that let you use the creator’s work in a legal, permitted way. This can be a stock photo licence, a font licence, the right to use a model’s image or likeness, et cetera – there is a range of options.
Licensing tends to specify a few things:
- Whether you can use it not only for personal or commercial use
- What countries you can use it in, commercially (yes, some licences won’t be internationally permitted!)
- Where it can be used digitally (websites, ebooks, apps, etc)
- Where it can be used physically (books, posters, merchandising, and other areas)
- Some even specify how many “copies” you can use it for (e.g. 1,000,000 impressions on a website or 10,000 downloads or 5,000 printed copies) before you need to upgrade your licence to a higher level.
And licensing might specify these things separately. So if you buy a font for personal use, it doesn’t mean you can use it in an ebook you want to sell, or in a business flyer, or any other commercial-based uses.
“Free for commercial use” doesn’t necessarily mean you have free reign, either. The ability to use an asset on your website doesn’t automatically mean you can use it in a book or an app, for example.
Which makes things a little bit complicated. If you don’t have the right licence for the purpose you want, you have to upgrade your licence or find a different asset. But if you’re already committed to a certain asset, such as a “branded” font, that often means you have to pay to upgrade your licence.
If It Isn’t Specific, Assume No Commercial Use
If the asset doesn’t talk about the licence, assume the worst: no commercial use allowed. It’s better to be on the safe side. This is especially true for fonts, as it’s easy to “strip” the font file from any website. So just because it’s listed on a font site, doesn’t mean it’s free to use. It could even be a custom font specific to a big brand, like KFC or Waitrose. And in that case, why would you want their branded font on your stuff anyway?
Open font licensing, like for fonts collected in Google Fonts, is one of the most widely-applicable licences as it means you can do almost whatever you want with it. For example, you shouldn’t try to sell the font on its own. No. Bad ju-ju. But you could design a graphic template, bundle the font together with the design files, and sell the template – as long as you give a copy of the font licence in the bundle.
I love using Font Squirrel to find free fonts simply because it is explicit what kind of licence you get. Just check the little icons. If you look up a font in Google Fonts, you’ll also find more details about the licensing.
Even if you buy a graphic or a font, it doesn’t mean you’re OK to use it for whatever you like. MyFonts is one of my favourite premium font websites, and it makes it nice and clear what you’re paying for.
Where to Find Free-For-Commercial-Use Assets
We’ve talked about free-for-commercial-use assets before. Now that you’ve read our licensing crash guide, you can browse these sources with confidence as you’ll know what to look for. Have a browse, and start making your content marketing more engaging:
- Free Music For Marketing: Videos, Podcasts, Apps, and More
- Social Media Video: Why & How To Use It [Free Video Resources]
- 12 Free Image Sites to Raise Your Content Marketing Game
Keep Track Of Your Licensing
If you use a huge range of assets, keeping track of the licensing might get complicated. For instance, you could make sure ONLY to use Open Source fonts, like Google Fonts.
You should also keep records about your font licensing. Many assets, once downloaded, will have a simple txt file that details the licensing. Keep your receipts, too.
If you use a lot of fonts for commercial use, for yourself or for clients, I highly recommend Typekit. Not only does it have a bajillion fonts*, but the fonts all come with the same licence thanks to Adobe’s hard work of gathering all the font “foundries” into one place. (*Not literally. But there is a lot.)
You can use Typekit fonts in print, merchandising, ebooks, pretty much everywhere. Depending on your plan there are some limitations to how many impressions you can have on websites. But what makes it easy is that whatever you plan is, you know every Typekit font you use has the same licence. More in their FAQ here.
Adobe Stock is great for other assets, such as graphics, as again the licensing is clear and simplified.
That’s Your Crash Guide to Licensing
Licensing also needs to be considered if you want to outsource a project. Your designer will need the right to use the assets and fonts, too. For example, unless it’s an open font licence, you shouldn’t just email over the font files. Be sure to share this crash guide to licensing with your team, too, so everyone is aware of what needs to be checked and kept a record of.
The simplest solution to keeping your assets organised and the licensing clear is to hire a designer. That way, all of the work is unique to you and your brand is guaranteed to be unique. But there’s a lot to be said for the design work that’s already out there. Font pricing or expensive document design doesn’t have to be a barrier between you and your content, whether it’s a fun Facebook ad or a quarterly magazine. Just make sure you respect the licence.