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Licensing a photograph means that you give the legal rights to another person to use it for an agreed set of purposes. There are several different types of license that you need to know about but all of them involve giving somebody or an organization the permission to use it.
The various licenses that can be created vary in how restrictive they are, ranging from absolutely free public domain licenses to a strict license that requires payment, time limits and allows for only specific uses of the image.
Copyrighting Images and Ownership.
As a photographer you should already have the copyright to your own work but you can also sell the copyright to another party. A copyright is a legal status that gives the official owner the right to do any of the following:
- Reproduce the image for any purpose.
- Display the work on websites or other publications.
- Make derivative products such as T-shirts using the image.
- Distribute and sell as many copies of the image as they want to.
- Sell or rent the legal ownership of the copyrighted image to any other party.
When you own the copyrights to an image that means that you have the sole right to the image. These are also known as the ‘exclusive’ rights and may be sold or rented to others by the legal owner. When you sell or rent the rights to the image that is also known as licensing the image. Before you can legally license an image you must own the copyrights to the image.
The Main Types of Photography Licenses.
The main types of photography licenses are the following:
- Rights Managed License: When you set up a rights managed, or ‘RM’ license, the user or buyer of the image has to clearly define what they will use the image for, how many copies will be printed and what the length of time that the image will be used for is. This is a very restrictive license that is frequently used in the photography industry to ensure that any competitors of the buyer are not able to license the same image. This is opposed to a royalty free license which can be relicensed and therefore used by potential competitors or in other publications or mediums. RM licenses are quite expensive due to their exclusivity and are often sold and managed by agencies on behalf of photographers.
- Editorial Use License: An image that includes a familiar brand, logo or celebrity may be licensed for editorial use. This means that if the image is to be used it must only be used in a newsworthy or public interest context and may not be used in advertising or other kinds of commercial operations.
- Royalty Free License: Sometimes referred to as an ‘RF’ license, a royalty free license is the most common way of selling images on stock photography platforms. Once an RF license has been bought it can be used for any application and although there may be some restrictions it gives the seller a great deal of flexibility while enabling them to resell it multiple times.
- Royalty Free (Extended) License: This license offers an even broader set of possibilities for the buyer in that they are allowed to use the image in the commercial sale of derivative items. These items can include merchandise such as T-shirts or mugs as well as websites and other publications. There may be a limit set on the amount of times the image can be reproduced.
- Creative Commons License: Usually referred to as a ‘CC’ license, a creative commons license allows photographers to distribute their work for free while protecting the ownership of the image. The image is free for people to make use of however attribution is required and the image cannot be used for commercial purposes. The attribution must credit the creator and may not be used in the creation of derivative items such as T-shirts or mugs.
- Public Domain License: A public domain license means that the creator has agreed to let anyone use the image for any purpose. No attribution is required and the image can be used for commercial purposes, including the creation of derivative items such as T-shirts.
Important Note on Licenses.
It’s very important to remember that when you are creating a license for an image then the license itself is meant to exclude the use of the work by anyone for any purpose which the creator, or legal owner of the image, has not specifically allowed.
This means that if you, as the copyright holder of an image, have not stated that image can be used in a certain way then it is illegal for the buyer to do so. This protects your rights as the creator of an image and is crucial for photographers to understand.
To create a license you need to cover the main areas of the agreement which will include:
- Who is it being licensed to?
- What is being licensed (your image)?
- Where can the image be used (for example, a website)?
- When can the image be used and for how long can it be used?
- Why you are licensing the image – usually the answer will be for a certain amount of money?
Basic Template To Create Your Own Licenses:
‘I hereby grant (name of the person or organization you are licensing the image to) the right to reproduce (identify your image) for (where and how the image can be used) for (how much you are licensing the image for) for the period of (define the time limit, if appropriate) with the credits for the image (if you want to be credited, your name will go here with the date the image was created).
This is a basic template that can be used in many instances and although you will need to modify it for each licensing it provides you with a basic framework to start from.
Put Your Licenses in Writing to Be Safe.
When you are creating a license you should always put them in writing to protect yourself from any legal problems later on. It might be tempting to just make a verbal agreement but it’s always safer to get it all in writing because if any dispute were to arise then you can fall back on your written agreement.
Definitive Checklist for Creating a License for Your Photography.
When you’re creating a license for an image you should always run through the following comprehensive checklist first:
- Who is buying or receiving the rights.
- What kind of rights are you selling or passing on to the buyer or recipient.
- What are you authorizing – print or digital and electronic rights?
- What is the time period over which you are authorizing the rights for the image?
- Are the rights exclusive or not?
- How can the image be used? What mediums and formats can it be republished in?
- Are you authorizing the production and distribution of derivative products such as T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise using the image?
- What countries or territories does the license cover?
- Will royalties be paid to you? If so, how much will be paid and how will you determine this amount? Will you charge a one off fee, a fee per image that is reproduced or a percentage of the resulting profits of its use?
- How and when will you be paid the royalties for your work?
- Can the image be altered or modified in any way by the user?
- Do you expect to be credited for the image when it is reused by the buyer of the license? For example, do you want to be credited under the image if it is reproduced?
- Do you want to see and approve samples of the image in use before it can be sold?
To be safe and ensure that you are creating a license that really does meet your needs it’s always worth running through the above checklist of items before signing any agreement. When you’re creating a license for your work you should try to be as specific as possible so there can be no future confusion or disagreements between you and the buyer.
How To Price an Image License.
When it comes to pricing your work, as a photographer or creative, it is always difficult. On the one hand you don’t want to ask too much and drive away potential buyers but at the same time you deserve to be paid properly for your work.
Pricing a license is even more tricky than pricing a single print! There are a few things you can do though to get an idea of what you should be charging for your work when it comes to licensing it for further use by others.
Factors to Consider When Pricing Your Photography for Licensing.
Who are you licensing the image to? What is their budget? Is it a large organization or an individual? You may choose to request a higher fee if you are licensing your work to a major Fortune 500 company than if you were licensing it to a small e-commerce website or a not for profit charity.
- How many times will the image be reproduced?
- How will the image be used? Is it for commercial or non-commercial purposes?
- How long will you issue the license for?
- What was the cost for you to produce the image?
When you’re pricing your photography for licensing you always have to make sure that you at least cover your own costs. This means that you need to cover all the costs associated with creating the image including, but not limited to, a proportion of your hourly or daily rate plus your fees for the amount of time you spent in post production.
Generally speaking, a fair rate for a single photo is somewhere between 5-20% of your daily rate; but ultimately, you’ll have to make this decision for yourself and in the context of the agreement.
Top Tip For Gauging the Price of Your Image for Licensing.
One of the ways that you can quickly get a rough idea of what you should be asking for your work is by checking with your peers and other image licensing companies for guidance. You can search websites such as GettyImages.com to get an idea of what other people are charging. You can also use the website’s inbuilt pricing generator to give you an approximation of what you could charge for it.
Alternatively, you can ask other photographers who are working in a similar genre to you and find out what they’re charging for their work. You can then use this as a rough estimate and work from there.
Licensing an Image – Building Up Your Revenue.
Learning how to license your photography and set a fair but profitable price is an important part of building up your income as a freelance photographer. Once you have worked through your checklist of questions to answer you can quickly put together a safe and legally valid licensing agreement with your buyer.
Once you have put together a secure licensing agreement which is legally binding you can safely sell your work on the terms that suit you best. Getting the basics right in the first instance will increase your income while avoiding potentially costly legal disputes down the road.
Have you ever licensed an image?