A photo licensing agreement is a legal contract where the owner of a photo licenses the use of the image to a person or company. The original owner retains the copyright of the image.
The contract stipulates the terms on how, when, and where the licensee can use that photograph. In the photo licensing agreement, the licensor is the person who owns the copyrights or is licensing rights to use the image. The licensee is the person who is gaining the rights to use the image. A licensee may also be granted the rights to sub-license the image – in that case, the licensee in one contract may be a licensor in a sub-license agreement.
In a photo license agreement, the copyright is not being sold — the licensee is essentially licensing the right to use it, not own it. If you’re an independent photographer, the copyright for an image belongs to you as soon as you take the picture. However, if a photographer is working through a company in a work for hire arrangement, the copyright may belong to the company.
In short, you need to hold the copyright in order to license the work to another party.
When Do You Need a Photo License Agreement?
Holding a copyright to a photograph doesn’t produce any income in itself. A photographer may charge a session fee or other fees associated with a shoot. If a photographer takes photos where they retain the copyright, developing a photo licensing agreement to sell usage to clients becomes an excellent way to earn revenue from the work.
A photo license agreement protects both the copyright holder and the person who wishes to publish or use the image. This contract stipulates what the image is, how it can be used, and whether the licensee can manipulate the image.
An agreement is generally discussed prior to the sale of the licensing rights. There are different terms and conditions which may be applicable. Both the licensor and licensee should be in agreement on the scope of the agreement.
The copyright owner will often set the price for the licensing based on the parameters of the agreement. For instance, for an exclusive license where the licensee is the only person allowed to use that work, the price may be set far higher. In comparison, a non-exclusive license where the copyright holder might license the same work to multiple parties can produce more sales and be priced more moderately.
The Consequences of Not Having a Photo License
A photo usage license agreement protects both the copyright holder and the person licensing the work.
Here are a few consequences that can arise for the copyright holder without a photo licensing agreement:
- Lack of revenue: A photo license agreement allows you to set a price on rights to work. Holding the copyright doesn’t garner any income. The ability to sell licensing to commercial and private clients offers another income stream for a photographer. Photographers can offer non-exclusive rights to several clients, increasing their revenue for a single piece because they can license it to more than one person. When offering exclusive rights, the photographer can charge a higher fee because that original work will not be available to monetize in other ways.
- Lack of control: A licensing agreement allows you to agree on the different ways an image can be used. For instance, you might offer only one type of licensure so that the client can only publish the image through one venue. They would be able to use the image on their website but they can’t print tee shirts with the same image. Using a licensing agreement means that you’ll be able to set terms and conditions to protect your interests in the work.
Possible consequences for the licensee include the following:
- Inability to use the image: If you don’t hold the copyright, a licensing agreement is the only legal way to use the image without breaching copyright. If you want to use an image for marketing purposes, or even to publish on your personal blog, there needs to be a licensing agreement or purchase.
- Inability to keep others from using the image: If you don’t want to use a stock photo that’s been used by a million different people, you need to either hold the copyright or purchase licensing rights through an agreement that stipulates whether or not you hold exclusive rights to the image.
The Most Common Uses
A photo licensing agreement is generally used when a photographer wants to license his or her work for use without selling the copyright to the image. In this way, the photographer still gets credit for the image and they will get paid for its use.
There are different types of licensing agreements. Here are a few common terms:
- Retail: A photo license agreement that states that an image can be used for retail might be used if the image was printed and framed for commercial sale or if the image was used on coffee mugs and other products.
- Commercial: Book publishers purchase commercial photo licensing so that they can include the image on the cover of a book or within the pages of a book for sale.
- Editorial: A magazine or online venue purchases editorial licensing in order to use the image with an article or post.
The license can be broad or specific, depending on the scenario. For instance, your licensing agreement may include a time frame. Once the time frame is over, the licensee can not use the image going forward without renewing the license.
What Should Be Included in a Photo Licensing Agreement?
Depending on the scenario, a photo usage licensing agreement might be very simple or it can contain elaborate terms and restrictions.
Here are some of the specific terms and descriptions that should be included in the agreement:
- The parties: In any legal contract, the parties involved should be clearly stated. Legal names or the legal name of the company should be used. The licensee (the person purchasing the rights) and the licensor (the person selling the rights) should be defined.
- Exclusive or non-exclusive: The photo usage license agreement should clearly state whether the agreement is exclusive or non-exclusive. Non-exclusive is the most common.
- The fee or payment: The contract needs to include the total price of the photo usage license.
- Permissions: This section tells you where and when the licensee is allowed to use the image. It explains whether they can use this image on their web properties, in print, etc.
- Time frame: If you’re including a license period on the license, it needs to be included in the contract. This makes it clear that the licensee only has rights to the image for a set length of time unless the license is renewed.
- Limitations: In some scenarios, you could set limitations so that the image can only be used for certain things or in specific ways. For instance, you might license the image for use in one edition of a book or one magazine article. You can also offer unlimited use, which means that the licensee can use the image across all media.
A photo licensing agreement allows the copyright holder and licensee to clearly define the ways in which an image can be used. This protects both parties and allows for a mutually beneficial professional relationship.