Editorial vs Commercial Image Licenses and Usage

What are the differences between Editorial vs Commercial image usage? Surely buying an image means you own it and you can do what you want with it, right? (Wrong.) Thankfully this isn’t the case because a lot of people would end up in a world of trouble. With lawsuits flying around hitting down harder than those grisly spaceships from the Independence Day film. (Where is Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum when you need them? Keep reading and hopefully crisis will be averted!)

Typically when it comes to media use there are two realms in which content can occupy. Either the Editorial, or the Commercial.

The Commercial

Commercial content such as photography and video is typically for the sole intention of generating money for the publisher of that media. There are less restrictions that apply to how the images are used. This is because the people, or the property owners involved in the shoot have consented to giving their likeness away in the form of a model or property release for the sake of that particular project. Usages can range from advertisement spreads in magazines, billboards, or a variety of different mediums in which an image can be present.

Commercial campaigns typically involve a larger fee. This is because all parties involved in the shoot have been compensated in a manner that allows for their image or property to be used for promotional purposes. The higher fee accompanying a commercial campaign is typically reimbursed through advertising for the particular image or video. This in turn brings in more clientele for the company in question and therefore more money. (aka, how to put the gold in Goldblum)

The Editorial

Editorial content, again, such as photography and videography is for the sole intention of supporting a story or narrative that isn’t for promotional or advertising purposes. This being that editorial content is able to document real issues, current events or stories of human interest in a factual manner.

Are there exceptions to Editorial use?

Yes there are!

Photographs of people under the age of 18. Due to the sensitive nature of photographing people under the age of 18. Photos of minors on their own must convey a very clear message of cultural or socio economic importance.

Ticketed events & locations. Taking photos of an event or inside a location that charges an admission fee will almost always require permission, even for editorial use. This is due to the intellectual property they protect.


Gaining a solid understanding of the differences between the two categories and their limitations of usage will help prevent legal consequences in the future. None of us like legal battles when it comes to usage and copyright claims. Be like Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum saved the planet from spaceships. These simple guidelines can save your day from the lawyers when it comes to understanding licensing. If you aren’t sure if commercial or editorial licensing is right for you, get in touch with us and we can hopefully set you on the right path.

His seal of approval