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Game lawyer Zachary Strebeck takes a look at the attribution requirements for some stock content sites and offers some insight into finding out what your responsibilities are when using royalty-free content.

Zachary Strebeck, Blogger

April 24, 2015

10 Min Read

How should you be handling attribution of royalty-free content?

I wrote about using royalty-free content a few weeks back. One commenter on Gamasutra asked for more information about attribution of this type of content – what are the requirements and how should the attribution be done?


I reached out to Shutterstock's legal department for some clarification on the attribution issue. Here’s the response I got:

“Generally speaking, using stock content in a commercial context — such as advertising, on product packaging, as an element of a website, etc., — would not require attribution. We do ask that when commercially reasonable, particularly if such attribution is standard practice (think of the end credits of a movie), attribution be made. We want to assure that our contributors, and Shutterstock, are afforded the same benefit as any other copyright holder.

If it’s common practice to credit copyright holders when designing video games, we’d ask for similar courtesy and recognition. For bloggers and other web-based publications, it’s accepted practice to credit the photographer and/or the agency when using an image to illustrate an article.” — William Clark, Assistant General Counsel – Licensing, Shutterstock.

Full disclosure, I use imagery from Shutterstock here on my site without attribution. In accordance with the above, however, I suppose it would be reasonable for me to put a notice in the footer of my site.

Other sites

I set my new intern, Alex Alkana, to the task! Check out his bio at the bottom of the post.

He scoured various royalty-free content sites and found out what their attribution requirements are. I’ll list them here and provide some commentary afterwards.


“If a purchased File is reproduced in mass media (published on a blog or website, in a magazine, in a newspaper or on TV), a copyright notice must be displayed next to the File. This notice must contain the following text: “© Depositphotos.com/[Name or Nickname of the contributor]”.” – Terms and Conditions


“[The user must not use] the Work in an editorial manner, without the following credit adjacent to the Image: “© [Photographer’s name] / Fotolia” (the “Copyright Notice”); provided however that if such Copyright Notice is not required under applicable law for use in a particular situation, AND if it would not be customary to include such Copyright Notice in such particular situation, then the Copyright Notice will not be necessary for use in such particular situation only” – Standard license agreement


“[You shall] retain the copyright notice of Veer and its licensors or content providers and Veer’s Image identification code as displayed on the Comping Image and as included as part of the electronic file.” – Terms and Conditions


The Turbosquid terms are a bit confusing and we’ve reached out to them for further info. I’ll update the post when they get back to us. Much of it depends entirely on the type of deal you have with Turbosquid and how you are using the images and other content.

What does it all mean?

The lesson? 

Read the terms and conditions that apply to the particular license you’re purchasing. Whether it’s under Creative Commons or a license specific to a royalty-free content site, each one might be a bit different.

The best way to stay out of legal trouble is to follow the directions. I know that no one wants to read these things. However, the benefits outweigh the cost. 

If there are questions, contact the legal department or a licensing representative at the company. They are there to help you and answer this type of question. Better to be safe than sorry!

For assistance with legal issues related to the use of royalty-free content or other intellectual property questions, why not contact a game lawyer? Or grab a copy of my two free eBooks on game development legal topics, including Fair Use.

Introducing my intern, Alex Alkana

Alex Alkana is a third year law student at Western State College of Law in Orange County, California. He is emphasizing his studies in the area of intellectual property, with specific interests in music, movies, and art. He has played piano and guitar in many bands throughout his life, and enjoys deconstructing songs into their elemental chord progressions and melodies. He finds it a little strange to write about himself in the third person, but this something he will hopefully soon get over.


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