Licensing Guide: Overview



As you probably know, most photographers go into business for themselves because they are passionate about creating images, capturing “moments in time” — not necessarily because they want to be in business. The irony is that photographers who do not learn and implement sound business practices will not be able to continue photographing professionally for very long.

What is an image license?

Images are the intellectual property of the creator, but for that property to generate income, photographers have to know their production costs, the value of their work, and the value of the usage their client is licensing. The value of usage is difficult assess because most clients will not share their sales / marketing information with you, so you have to do your best at guessing based off of the type of usage they are requesting.

How to Write a License?

If you are a creative and interested in writing a license for a client, I would advise to speak with a lawyer to help you draft the right language based on the type of usage rights you’re looking to provide. But, if you want to give it a go, it is a good practice to include these main categories when writing a license; What is being licensed, Duration of License, How & Where it can be used, is the license exclusive or non exclusive? Of course there is many more options to consider like rights management. Licensing can be tricky, which is why I would refer to a copyright lawyer.

3 Types of Use:
Commercial, Editorial, and Retail

The business of professional photography can be broken into three main categories of use. Commercial which refers to photography that is used to sell or promote a product, service, or idea. Editorial which refers to photography used for educational or journalistic purposes, not selling or promoting. And Retail refers to photography that is commissioned or purchased for personal use only.

The difference between these categories is not in the type of photography, but in the use of the photography. For example, suppose that a corporation hires a photographer to document a product launch event. For the corporation, the type of photography being commissioned is event coverage, and the use is commercial because the corporation will use those photographs to promote their product. For a local newspaper or blogger covering the same product launch, the use would be editorial because they are not selling anything, they are simply reporting on the event.

An example of retail photography would be a wedding, which is also event coverage — but now the work is categorized as retail because the end use is personal. However, if the event planner or wedding venue asks to use one of the photographs to promote their services, that would be a commercial use and the price of the usage would be much more than a retail use.

While some photographers concentrate in one of these three areas, it is not unusual for a photographer to work in multiple arenas, making it imperative to understand the business practices and pricing structures of each.

Commercial, editorial or retail photographs are intellectual property and is protected by the law. Unless you are an employee or have contractually transferred ownership, you become the owner of this property when you create the image. Licensing this property for specific uses is how your business generates gross income. Giving away usage rights for free is almost equivalent to giving away your services for free and I don’ t know to many businesses that can sustain by working for free.