My company bought a vector from Shutterstock and wants to trademark it by adding some words with different colors.

Do you know anything about if this is legal since we purchase the vector art?

  • 1
    Why not contact the author in regards to purchasing the rights to it if you like it so much? Oct 4, 2014 at 15:17
  • Why not modify the original logo, the colors, and/or the shapes a bit, then you can copyright it without any issues. Oct 5, 2014 at 5:16
  • In my experience, contacting the artist on stock image sites can be difficult or impossible. Presumably the sites intentionally maintain the separation so that they can get their slice of the pie; off-site transactions won't bring any money for them
    – JohnB
    Oct 7, 2014 at 19:28
  • It's not exactly the problem you're discussing here but try to draw a dog that's not on shutterstock.
    – user43550
    May 9, 2015 at 18:43

4 Answers 4


Perhaps you failed to notice "Copyright: PureSolution" on the Shutterstock page.

In 99% of all cases you can not trademark or copyright royalty free artwork.

What you "purchased" was the right to use the artwork in a limited fashion not ownership of the image. You should read the agreement for any stock image service you are using. Reading the Shutterstock agreement (http://www.shutterstock.com/licensing.mhtml) would inform you that you do not own the image or have any legal claim to said image.

So, short answer, No, you can not trademark or copyright an image from a stock image service.

  • Thank you so much Scott. I saw that page and I was not too sure so I want to double check. Never want to mess around with copyright stuff ... :) Oct 3, 2014 at 23:01
  • Also, this might help...
    – user29318
    Oct 3, 2014 at 23:08

Part II of the Terms of Service states



  1. Use any Image (in whole or in part) as a trademark, service mark, logo, or other indication of origin, or as part thereof, or to otherwise endorse or imply the endorsement of any goods and/or services.

The license comparison page states the following:

What is not allowed with Shutterstock Licenses?

Print on demand products (t-shirts, mugs, etc.)

Sensitive Subjects

  • Pornography, defamatory or otherwise unlawful or immoral content, or infringement on a third party’s trademark or intellectual property.
  • Using images of recognizable people for sensitive subjects such as: tobacco products ads, adult entertainment and escort services ads, political endorsements, in advertisements or promotional materials for pharmaceutical or healthcare, uses that are defamatory, or contain otherwise unlawful, offensive or immoral content.

Web resolution that exceeds the display resolution of the intended viewing device

Non-editorial use of images marked Editorial Use Only

Logos, trademark, or similar applications of images

Italic emphasis mine. So this usage is actually explicitly disallowed.


Let's ignore the legal issue as, after all, we're not lawyers in here. But let me bring up what I think is a much more pressing issue for your client: why attempt to use stock art--something that anyone else can use--to identify your product or service?

Though you may be able to copyright the derivative work, the original work is still free to use by anyone that desires to purchase it from the stock art site. Your competition could use it. Or an unsavory company could use it. I doubt you'd want your brand to be confused with theirs and as it's stock art, there'd be little legal standing in terms of being able to protect it if that ever became the case.

So, my suggestion from a brand equity standpoint is that using stock art for your trademarked logo is very risky.


It depends a lot on how much you modify the original and how good your lawyers are. Those images look rather generic so a bit of adjustment to the scale, rotation, colour blend etc. and it becomes a derivative work. If you are going to print it, you're good at this point. If it goes online you also need to check the vector code (usually SVG) for metadata. Also look for paths you can't identify - one way to watermark a vector file is to write your name in 0.1mm letters.

Or you could simply load it up as a background image and trace it. Won't take long and you get a clean file as a result.

  • 1
    There's no such thing as "altering enough to make it legal."
    – Scott
    Oct 4, 2014 at 15:37
  • 1
    First, way to go on explaining how to rip off somebody's work. Second, one of the things that copyright gives you is rights over derivative work. If the asker creates a derivative work of the copyrighted work, that doesn't escape from the original copyright. Oct 4, 2014 at 17:40
  • @Scott sure there is. The music industry does it daily. Copyright is civil, not criminal, so it's not a question of it being "legal" but a question of "can you be sued, successfully"
    – peter
    Oct 5, 2014 at 3:36
  • Peter, no there is not. The music industry has permission when they do such things. In addition, music is not the same as visual art.
    – Scott
    Oct 5, 2014 at 3:40
  • @Scott : musicians make deals for a near-exact copy. They don't when they make something influenced by something else. There's really very little in the world that is truly new.
    – peter
    Oct 5, 2014 at 6:40

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