April 14, 2021
6 min read

Everything You Need To Know About Commercial Use

When creating content you can run into limitations of commercial use. Learn everything about it today.

Ben Bitvinskas
Co-founder, Atlasmic
The term Commercial use is something that all people involved in marketing as well as self-start entrepreneurs should be familiar with. When you want to create content, design your website or products, sell and advertise online, you probably could run into limitations or acknowledgement of Commercial use. It’s something that puts limitations on what you can and cannot use for business purposes without paying. Without getting into too much depth with legal details, let’s see the most basic things and elements of Commercial use. Here’s everything you need to know!

What exactly is Commercial use?

You can describe Commercial use as any activity where products and services are used for commercial benefit. This benefit could be financial, prestige-related or other, which ultimately benefits the users’ commercial activity.
However, 90-95% of the time, the term relates to the usage of visuals and copyrighted or trademarked content which you market. For example, when you purchase Adobe Photoshop’s license to design T-Shirts that you’re going to sell and earn a profit from – you have to have a license for Commercial use of Adobe Photoshop. The same applies to almost all products made by other individuals and organizations. If you want to use them for your commercial benefit, you have to have a license and permission to do so. The permission is usually obtained through payment of a license fee.

When will I encounter Commercial use?

Most entrepreneurs online run into Commercial Use when creating visuals and graphics for their content. Tools like Canva, Shutterstock and a variety of others can be used for both personal and commercial purposes. In order to be eligible for Commercial Use, your organization probably has to pay a certain fee.
The exact places and spots where this legal term is encountered can vary from business to business. For example:
If you were to only use Adobe apps for personal purposes, the personal license would cost you 52.99$ per month. Whilst if you want to be eligible for Commercial use of the Adobe application suite, you have to pay 79.99$ per month. The cost difference between identical products usually helps distinguish where you can find the product for commercial and individual purposes, respectively.

How to separate Commercial from Non-Commercial use?

The easiest way to understand Commercial and Non-Commercial use would be to understand it from this standpoint.
  • If it makes you money or if it benefits your business – Commercial use
  • If you use it for your own entertainment or just show it to your friends, or educate other people – Non-commercial use
The line gets a little bit blurrier once you consider things that you display for the public. This is where a lot of people can remember the abysmal thing that is YouTube’s Content ID. It’s the attempt to digitize and automate Commercial licensing monitoring on YouTube (which we all have to admit, has a lot of content that infringes a copyright and is against fair use). However, out in the real world, the Content ID system has failed to separate Commercial and Non-Commercial use numerous times, deleting videos by mistake and penalizing content creators even when they haven’t done anything wrong.
What makes it hard to distinguish commercial and noncommercial use sometimes, is when you try to separate what gets you commercial benefit and what is fair use. So, for example, let’s say you create a presentation to show for your class where you use stock images from Shutterstock. Since you show this presentation for a grade (non-commercial purpose) it cannot be labelled as commercial use. A personal license is enough.
However, once you move to an area where you earn money (e.g. – making videos or ads online), using someone else’s footage and creations could cause problems. In longer videos, content creators claim that even when someone else’s footage is made, it’s not the source for their income and rather just an example, used for clarification or educational purposes.
But, from the standpoint of content creators, you showed a commercial property (their creation) on a platform that pays you money which they would like to benefit from, as well. This is why you hear the term Fair Use thrown around the subject of commercial licensing and Commercial use.
Once again, remember that there is never a violation if you don’t earn money or gain other commercial benefits.

What happens if I don’t follow Fair Commercial use rules?

First and foremost, we have to express our advice for entrepreneurs and sellers to never try to cheat and be dishonest with regards to Commercial use. Always act responsibly and support content creators, developers and other people that have made things.
If you fail to comply with the general laws and legal obligations, you can be subject to warnings, fines, suspensions, lawsuits and other disciplinary action. Let’s take a look at every one of these.
  • Warnings – the least disciplinary measure. The platform where you have been noticed infringing Commercial use rules (e.g. Shopify) could issue a warning, asking you to make the necessary changes immediately. If you don’t follow, further penalties could incur.
  • Fines – fines could be issued in proportion to what you earned by exploiting Commercial use rules. For example, proceeds and earnings from selling a T-Shirt made with unlicensed imaging could be taken away. If violations are proved in court, fining is done according to local laws.
  • Suspensions – if you exploit the rules too much, the administrator of the platform or the responsible governing body could forcefully shut down your business.
  • Lawsuits – the author of the content which you used could bring the matter to court. The end result is usually a very big fine that the infringer has to pay.


So, we hoped that this helped you understand what exactly is Commercial use and why it matters. Don’t forget to follow the rules accordingly because the punishment for not doing so is no joke. Young businesses can’t afford to pay fines or deal in court, so it’s better to do things the right way from the get-go and avoid grey areas!
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