April 2024

What is Third-Party Content?


Written by Kristin Lia and Adrianna Garcia.

Generating content is crucial to business marketing, but it can be difficult to consistently produce unique content. In today’s competitive digital landscape, embracing third-party content is essential. Integrating third-party content into your business marketing strategy prevents fatigue, broadens your target audience and provides fresh perspectives from varied sources. Here, we outline the key points brands should be aware of when incorporating third-party content into their marketing materials.

What Is Third-Party Content?

Third-party content is any content that has been created by an external source (i.e., another person or company), and it may be protected by multiple layers of intellectual property laws including trademark, copyright and rights of publicity. Among other things, third-party content can include brand names, logos, photos, music, artwork, video footage, GIFs, user-generated content and social media posts, as well as indicia of identity such as name, image, likeness, social media handles, biographies, and voice.

General Rules For Using Third-Party Content

In general, a brand’s use of third-party content in its business marketing materials will be considered commercial in nature, meaning permission from the content owner is likely required. Using third-party content without permission could result in lawsuits, consumer complaints and negative publicity, among other potential consequences. However, the type of permission necessary can vary depending on the use case. For example, a direct message or email permission from the rights holder may be sufficient for very limited use cases whereas broader or more prominent uses may require a formal license, release or other type of contract. Best practice is to secure all required permissions ahead of production to avoid delays or the need to blur or edit out third-party content for which you don’t have rights in post-production.

Key Points:

  • Do not exceed the scope of consent. Be sure the consent you receive covers your intended use – that is, the purpose or nature of use, territory, duration of use and type of media. If your permission only allows for use on social media, you can’t plaster the content on billboards and other out-of-home media. If the term of your license is limited to a defined year-long period, you can’t use the content forever. Also, be mindful of whether the consent requires the rights holder’s approval before each instance of use, which happens frequently with brand logos and talent.
  • Identify the rights holder(s). In many cases, you may need permission from multiple rights holders for a single piece of content. For example, if you plan to use a photo of a person, you will need permission from the photographer and the person featured in the photo. If you want to use video footage that features a mural in the background, you’ll need permission from the videographer and the artist who created the mural.
  • Be careful with stock photo licenses. Use reputable stock photo companies and don’t neglect to read the fine print with stock photo licenses since they are often full of limitations and disclaimers. Specifically, brands buying a stock photo license should ensure that the license allows for commercial use of the photo (as opposed to editorial use). Moreover, commercial licenses from these sites often only grant rights with regard to the photographer. If there are people or other third-party content featured in the photo, it may be the licensee’s obligation to secure the additional permission(s).
  • Follow attribution requirements and brand guidelines. When using third-party content in business marketing materials, always confirm whether brand guidelines or attribution requirements exist. For example, brands may require their trademarks depicted in specific forms or formats, and rights holders may require specific acknowledgments.
  • User-generated content. Brands frequently use social media posts in their marketing materials to showcase positive consumer sentiment, but the rules still apply. You need permission before using or re-posting any third-party content on social media, even if the post explicitly mentions your brand or company name.