Once in a while, on the iStockphoto forums, a buyer will post questioning whether it is within the license restrictions to crop, tint or otherwise modify a stock image they have purchased.  Certainly, in the case of iStockphoto at least, the answer is “Yes!  Please do as you need to fit your project!”…

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Of course, this is not easy to figure out from the licensing terms:

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You may only use the Content for those advertising, promotional and other specified purposes which are Permitted Uses (as defined below). For clarity, you may not use the Content in products for resale, license or other distribution, unless … the original Content has been fundamentally modified or transformed sufficiently that it constitutes an original work entitling the author or artist to copyright protection under applicable law, and where the primary value of such transformed or derivative work is not recognizable as the Content nor is the Content capable of being downloaded, extracted or accessed by a third party as a stand-alone file (satisfaction of these conditions will constitute the work as a “Permitted Derivative Work” for the purposes of this Agreement).

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Actually, this is sort of an odd statement, because you are actually allowed, or at least history has shown it to be allowed, that you can host unaltered images online with no issues, and that would seem to be in conflict with the above.  For instance, unaltered images are hosted all the time online in blogs and articles, and certainly, the the primary value of the non-transformed work is recognizable as the licensed content.  There is actually a statement later in the terms about it:

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Permitted Uses.   Subject to the restrictions described under Prohibited Uses below, the following are “Permitted Uses” of Content:… on–line or electronic publications, including web pages to a maximum of 1200 x 800 pixels for image or illustration Content or to a maximum of 640×480 for video Content

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This is one of those things that points out the iStockphoto license terms need to be rewritten in clear, straightforward language.

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So, assuming that cropping, or otherwise modifying a stock image (such as adding a title) results in it being a “derivative” work, this is certainly allowed under the current (confusing) terms.  So, let’s look at a couple of ways to crop or modify an image that you license.

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Let’s say you work for the local library district, and you’ve got promotional posters/flyers on your shelf end caps.  The frames are 8×10 aspect.  So you find a great image that is not 8×10.  Feel free to crop and add text to it.

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Example of library image cropped.

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Modified promotional library image.

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Is the image you like vertical when you need horizontal?  Or the opposite?  No problem.  Modify away!  (Yes, I used Comic Sans, lol…)

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Boy in tube in pool


Swim advertisement with boy in pool.

You can also buy a larger image than you need, just to crop out the bit that is important to you.  You can totally change the point of the image this way – see below.


Man with sandwich at tailgate party.


Tailgate party article example.

So, you can pretty much do what you like to the image to satisfy your project needs (keeping in mind the restrictions in the license in section 4a).  For example, add a snowy layer to a winter image to make it pop.  Crop to the advertisement banner size, and add your text.


Uncropped Christmas shipping image.


Fake ad for Christmas Shipping


These are all valid modifications and uses for stock images that you have properly licensed.  Using Photoshop, GIMP, or your favorite image editing program, you can fit your new purchase into your project with no issues.

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