Scott Heavey / Alamy Stock Photo

A guide to third-party rights in images and rights clearance

When you purchase a stock photo, you’re paying for a licence that grants you formal permission to use the image for a specified use. It means you can use the image without breaching the photographer’s copyright. However, that’s not the only copyright you need to be aware of.

You also need to be aware of third-party rights. This could include the model in the image, intellectual property such as branding or trademarks, or even certain buildings. And that only covers a small number of things within an image that could be copyrighted.

So we’re going to explain everything you need to know about third-party rights, what they look like and how to navigate them.

Alamy is always on hand to provide the expertise needed to navigate copyright concerns.

So do feel free to get in touch if you need any help.

Editorial vs commercial licences

If you’re using images in an editorial capacity, you don’t need to worry about third-party rights. Editorial licences are for content that is used in the context of news or human interest stories.

It typically relates to content that seeks to impart information or to communicate an opinion; it’s essentially non-fiction. This could be in the form of a newspaper article, a news bulletin, a non-fiction reference book, or a documentary – as long as the content is used in a factual context.

In contrast to this, commercial licences are for content that helps you monetise something. This might be in the form of an advert, packaging, merch, a film, or a product such as calendars and mugs.

Due to the commercial nature in which you’re using the content, you’ll need to get the necessary clearances to use the image in addition to the licence you obtain from Alamy.

Model releases and property releases are the most common types of clearances you need to secure for commercial licences.

For further guidance, you can find out more about the difference between commercial and editorial licences here.

What do third-party rights look like?

The most common type of third-party rights refers to property. If this permission has been secured in advance, it will be denoted under the property release tags.

But if you have people in your image, you should also be aware of model releases as you’ll need the subject’s permission to use the image (with said model) commercially.

Model releases allow you to use images featuring identifiable people. Even if the model has their back turned, you should still ensure the image is released for commercial use as they could be identified via body markings or simply by proving they were at that particular location, and at that time.

Mint Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

In cityscapes like this, no particular building is the focus of the image. This means you won't need a property release to use this image commercially.

Property rights, on the other hand, can be quite extensive as it refers to any intellectual property. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but property can include:

  • Buildings
  • Branding
  • Trademarked goods
  • Trademarked words
  • Logos
  • Works of art
  • Famous landmarks

Did you know that you need a separate clearance to use images of the Eiffel Tower when it’s lit up as the light display belongs to Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel?

Much like model releases, property releases depend on the copyrighted subject being recognisable. We’ll be going through some key examples in the next section.

There’s another entity you’ll need to be aware of too, especially regarding sports imagery. Some images are controlled by an accreditor such as DataCo. They grant licences to third parties, and therefore control the rights of images taken during Premier League and Football League matches.

Any images controlled by DataCo are annotated with additional instructions with links to specific terms and conditions. No DataCo images can be used in a commercial capacity without first obtaining additional clearances from them. It’s worth reading schedule 1 of our Licence Agreement for more detail.

Third-party rights you should be aware of and how to navigate them

Sometimes it can be tricky to figure out if there are any third-party rights within an image so we wanted to highlight the most common examples, and what you can do to obtain the necessary clearances to use your image commercially.

Works of art

Works of art includes images in a gallery, sculptures, wall art and even graffiti. The first thing you should do is check if the artist is still living. If they died more than 70 years ago, the artwork is in the public domain, and you don’t need to seek further permission to use it except for the image licence.

If the artist is still living or deceased for less than 70 years, you will need to get additional clearances from the artist or their estate before use.

Furthermore, if an artist uses an out of copyright work of art to create new work, the artist can register copyright for their new artwork and therefore, additional permissions are needed even though the original artwork is out of copyright.

So be aware of any works of art in your image and if there are, then you’ll need to get in touch with the owner of the artwork or the estate of the artist.

Nicola Ferrari RF / Alamy Stock Photo

You'll need to get clearances for the graffiti in the background, the Nike branding on the shoes as well as a model release to license this image for commercial use.

Famous people 

Some famous people have personality rights. These are rights that control the use of their ‘likeness’ – their image or even a recreation of their image.

This can be complicated as some personality rights will perpetuate forever after death, and others will expire when the celebrity dies. To complicate things further, personality rights in one country can differ from another, and even from one US state to the next.

Famous landmarks 

A landmark might be in public space, but the rights of the creator will perpetuate for up to 70 years after death – as they are works of art. An example is the statue of Christ the Redeemer whose sculptor died in 1961.

Sometimes the owner of the copyright is disputed; the commissioner of the work might claim to be the owner rather than the artist. So it’s always advisable to find out exactly who the copyright holder is and to obtain clearances from that person.


Some buildings and venues are owned or sponsored by private companies. And you might need permission from more than just the architect to use an image featuring the building. For example, the O2 Arena in London, or the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

This doesn’t apply to public buildings such as government property. You also don’t need to consider buildings if they aren’t the focus of the image such as in cityscapes.

So you’ll want to find out if there’s a private owner of the building, an architect who has copyrighted the design or if it’s been privately sponsored.


Events such sporting fixtures, festivals, concerts, and many others will usually contain all sorts of branding and trademarks you need to be aware of.

There are the event owners themselves, the sponsors, the designers, the lights technicians, the personalities and so on. Make sure you’ve cleared rights with all the interested parties before use.

image showing range of third-party rights at events
Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo

Events are typically littered with third-party rights. There are quite a few to be aware of here. You've got the branding on Messi's shirt, on the ball, in the background and the strip itself as it's owned by the club. Messi himself will also have personality rights to navigate.

Movie stills, cinema posters and music posters

These are publicity handouts which can be used for editorial critiques. Using these for commercial purposes requires additional permissions.

To use these images commercially, you’ll need to get in touch with the rights holder of the movie or band.


Amazingly, some phrases are trademarked. Using a photo with these words will need additional permissions for use in consumer goods and merchandise.

For example, The Lion King’s ‘Hakuna Matata’; Paris Hilton’s ‘That’s hot’; and Taylor Swift’s ‘Nice to meet you, where you been?’ have all been trademarked. The same applies to quotes from speeches.


As you can see, it’s always good to be aware of any third-party rights in your images and to seek the necessary clearances if you want to use it in a commercial capacity. We always recommend that you seek advice from your legal team if you’re unsure.

But if you need any help or guidance getting clearances, please do get in touch as our team have a wealth of experience dealing with navigating third-party rights.

Matt Yau

Matt started off as a live music photographer covering up-and-coming bands in Brighton, and since then has become enamoured by the power of pictures. With a penchant for storytelling, he's on a mission to uncover unique images from the Alamy library and tell the story behind them.

Read more from Matt