Using Photos of People and Celebrities in Items

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Note: This post hasn't been updated in over 2 years.

Celebrity PhotoMany authors use photos of people in their item previews – it’s a great way to liven up your preview and make it real to buyers.

There are some things to consider in using photos of people, because those people might have something to say about how and where you’ve used their image! In short, we think the best way to get images of people is from reputable stock photography “commercial use” collections. There are some other options, but this is the most straight forward one. Read on, and I’ll explain why.

Some other posts in this series are:

What’s the issue with using photos of people in my items?

There are different rights people have to control the use of photos of themselves. Depending on where someone lives, or where a photo of them is used,  these include rights of publicity, rights of privacy and consumer protection laws. Sometimes people have a right to have a say about any public use of a photo of them, and sometimes their right is only about commercial or advertising uses of their image.

These rights are separate to the intellecutal rights in the actual photo file itself.  So, if Louise takes a photo of John, Louise would own the copyright in the photo itself.  But John may have a say in how the image of him is then used.

These things vary from country to country, so there’s not one clear position globally about how and when one can use an image of another person. And that’s tricky in the global world that is online.  So the best you can do when you’re putting your item into a global marketplace is to use ‘model released’ images.  This generally means that identifiable people in the image have consented to their photo being used in any way – editorial or commercial.

As I’ve explained in my recent posts in this series, even if the image is free, or is available under a creative commons “commercial use” license, a person in the photo might not have given a model release.  So be aware of that possibility, as it won’t necessarily help you to say “But it was on Flickr” or that it was on a free site!

Can I use photos of famous people in my items?

You may be wondering why a photo of a celebrity, sportsperson or other well-known person can be used in, say, a news website or blog, but not in your marketplace item.  That’s because of the difference between ‘editorial’ and ‘commercial’ uses.  That’s not a distinction that applies in all situations or all countries, but it’s a general or ‘bottom line’ approach that’s often taken when a photo of a person is going to be used worldwide.  The approach is that an ‘editorial’ use of a person’s image (ie for news or comment) does not need their consent, whereas a ‘commercial’ or advertising use does.

Here at Envato, our policy is that to keep things simple, marketplace items and their previews or live demos are commercial.  So that means, no photos of famous people, sportspeople, musicians, DJs or anyone else who earns their living from having a public presence.

But if it’s really necessary to illustrate how a template might be used, real world names of people or music bands can be used in text form only, and only  in previews.

So what should I look for when finding images?

You should always check licenses and terms and conditions on the sites where you are looking for images.  If you’re not sure whether images on a site are model released, ask that site.  Unfortunately but we can’t advise authors on external sites so if you really need help you may want to ask a lawyer.  And be aware that some sites have ‘editorial’ collections, which won’t be suitable for use in your commercial marketplace items or their previews.

Remember that if you want to include the photo in your downloaded item, you’ll need a license that allows commercial re-distribution.  If the photo is for use in your item preview only, then you still need a commercial use license but not necessarily one that allows re-distribution.  That’s explained more in our Knowledgebase article What Images, Videos, Code or Music can I use in my Items?

What if I took the photo, the photo is public domain, or the celebrity is not alive?

I’m not talking here about being a PhotoDune or VideoHive author, as stock photo and stock video footage have their own detailed model release requirements. If you take your own photos for use within other marketplace items, you need to get your own model releases from the people in them.  Now, we’re not expecting or asking you to submit the releases to us, and you can use some discretion in how formal the model release is – this might vary depending on your relationship to the person being photographed.  Sometimes an email might be sufficient, and other times a written signed release would be better.

If a photo is in the public domain, that means the copyright in the photo has expired, but that doesn’t necessarily affect the rights of the person in the photo.  And similarly, even if a person in a photo is no longer alive, if they were famous it might be that their estate still controls the use of their image.  So it’s best to avoid pictures of deceased celebrities in your commercial marketplace items.

Despite all these matters, there are plenty of sources out there of model released images that won’t break your budget, so don’t despair!  As we’ve said a few times now, it’s of course your responsibility to make sure your photos are properly licensed and contain appropriate content.  Take this opportunity to review your items – don’t wait for someone else to knock on your door about it.

If you have any questions or feedback, let me know in the comments!

  • Chris Gallagher

    In my line of work i take pictures for use on websites of say a business like a pub, nightclub or restaurant. I generally try to get pictures while the venue is empty – as in this site here: – if you take pictures of such a venue when there are people present – whats the best way to go about this – would you need a model release form from every person present in the picture?
    As in each person would have to sign a model rlease form? If so do you have any suggestions of structuring a model release form for use in situations like this?
    One technique i have seen before is to do long exposures – which creates a sense of movement – but almost always you get someone propping up a bar after a few “light ales” who doesnt move for the duration of the exposure!

  • Phillip

    I buy photos from photodune and then use them in my template preview. Obviously I cannot sell it with my product and thus it’s only ever used with the preview. (and also only 1 time, according to the terms of sale)

  • Diana

    I see many files with images of famous people, what will happen to this files?, and what about a vector portrait?

  • Alan

    Large attractions like Disney and Sea world post a notice at the entrance that filming maybe taking place and that by attending, you consent to having your picture used for anything what so ever. It’s how they are able to produce PR images for the attraction where you can recognize everyone.

    Perhaps you could supply your clients such a sign and post it to the entrance to the pub where you are shooting.

    Bear in mind, I’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV so you need to check your local laws with a media attorney to see if that would work for you.


  • Luciano

    Hi. I would like to use a Sigmund Freud photo for commercial use but I’m not sure how to proceed. I’ve already found on Google the picture I want. Could u help me?

  • Benji

    One of my problems is in the understanding what the difference is between Editorial and Commercial. For example, if I want to use the image in a blog post on my website, is that considered Editorial?
    Tons and tons of people use images of celebrities in their blog posts – are you trying to say that all either buy the images or steal them?
    Can you recommend a few places (even if it has to be privately) I can purchase images of celebrities?

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  • shali

    I am looking for about 2000 pictures of celebrities (singers, movie stars, football players etc.) to be used in a new mobile game.
    My questions:
    1. Where can I find these kind of pictures to buy suitable for my need?
    2. From a legal rights point of view, can I use these pictures in my application freely? (no need to accept rights from the celebrities themself?…)
    3. Can I crop the pictures in order to make them fit to application needs? (generally I need only the faces)


    • Simon

      Hey Shali,

      I am going through a similar problem, I need a large quantity of celebrity photos for my application, and I was wondering whether you have found a solution?

      Kind Regards,


  • Bryan

    I have been looking everywhere to determine if I am able to sell my celebrity art entirely toward charities, like Wikipedia. Can anybody help? Am I able to sell my celebrity drawings 100% toward charity? Thank you.

  • Jessielynn

    What about all the people posting on tumblr sites? Technically they are blogs but partly social media with reblogs, etc.

  • http://none Denise Johnson

    My soon to 12 year made a collage of a band off the internet she wants it on her cake but the stores are telling us they can’t use the picture off the internet cause its copy righted… my question is if we can print it how can it copy righted? Hope to hear from you soon! Thank you

    • Adrian Try

      Hi Denise – sounds frustrating! Copyright is a complex issue, and this article explains how we approach the issue at Envato. We can’t speak on behalf of the cake shop – you’d have to ask them.

  • Jade

    Hi, we have a new website that can do this. Check out We’re still in the process of partnering with more non profits. Which charity do you have in mind? So we can contact them. Thanks