Stock Photography Licences
In the stock photography industry, we don’t actually sell photographs. We sell stock photography licences.
This is an important difference.
Remember this; Above all, the photographer retains the copyright to the photograph. The only exception to this is if the photographer sells the copyright. It is normal to demand a high fee in these circumstances.
A licence allows a customer to use that photograph for an agreed period of time and for a particular use. As a result, any use outside the terms of the licence could be classified as an infringement. As photographers we own the copyright to all our own photographs, irrespective of how many times the photograph ‘sells’. Primarily the most attractive element of stock photography is that a licence can sell many times and we (as photographers) still own the copyright.
Lets look at the different types of stock photography licences.
A royalty free stock photography licence is most commonly (but not exclusively) associated with microstock libraries such as Shutterstock. In addition they are usually available as a standard licence or as an enhanced licence.
All royalty free images must have model release forms for anyone in the images. Of course, all body parts require a model release form even when the person is unrecognisable. This may seem trivial but this is a professional industry and all libraries are looking to protect themselves should a claim arise.
Royalty free photographs demand that no logos or recognisable intellectual property are visible. If it is otherwise impossible to exclude them then they should be erased using a cloning tool.
Furthermore it is worth noting that silhouettes are not allowed if it is of a recognisable form such as The Angel of the North.
Standard Royalty Free
Primarily a standard royalty free licence allows a buyer to use the image as often as they want to. Its use usually includes:
- Electronic usage (websites etc)
- Slideshows and presentations
- TV shows
- Business cards
A standard royalty free licence usually has a maximum print run of less than 500,000.
Maybe some of the usages mentioned above will give you ideas that you could shoot? (maybe you could think of some business card ideas?)
Enhanced Royalty Free
An enhanced royalty free licence can be used for all the usages mentioned in the standard licence. In addition the image can also be used for commercial purposes including:
- T shirts
- Other projects where the buyer wants to resell the image and the image adds value to the item (Jigsaws, postcards etc).
The buyer routinely has print runs in excess of 500, 000 for any purpose.
A library that offers rights managed licences is usually known as a macro stock library.
This is a good place to sell images you take on your holidays or in your home town that contain people you don’t know. These should be available for sale as editorial use only.
A rights managed stock photography licence has tighter controls regarding what an image can and cannot be used for. Consequently this will typically stipulate what an image may be used for and the period of time the licence lasts. In addition when the licence expires the customer can purchase a new licence to continue using the image. This can become a revenue stream with repeat sales!
Furthermore, factors that determine how much a licence sells for include:
- The size and resolution of the image.
- The purpose of the image, the industry and its use. (Advertising, newspaper, book cover, etc).
- The geographical limits of the limit (UK, worldwide etc).
- The medium for intended use (TV, website, presentation etc).
- The length of time.
- The print run or volume of copies
- If the customer wants an exclusive licence (as available!)
Finally, the most noteworthy stock photography libraries that sell Rights Managed licences are probably:
I know from experience that Alamy have a very good discussion forum where members can ask and usually get good answers.
This is a good place to start doing further research.
Stock photography licences: My opinion
It is worth noting that individual libraries terms and conditions do vary and so all the above is in very general terms. Furthermore, if there is a specific query you want answering you can leave a comment below or you can ask the library direct.
In my experience, a rights managed portfolio is the most financially lucrative option as they usually achieve higher licence fees than royalty free licences.
Microstock libraries usually sell royalty free images for pennies or a few pounds. While macro stock libraries selling RM achieve sales for substantially higher fees albeit less frequently.
However, this depends upon which library you place your images with. It is worth remembering that some libraries such as Alamy allow you to sell both types of licence. Alamy merely stipulate that any RM image is not available for sale as RF on other sites.
Whichever route you decide to go down, you shouldn’t place the same photographs on micro stock sites and macro stock sites at the same time. While this may seem obvious, I have seen examples where the same photo is available on both. This seems self defeating to my way of thinking.
Finally it is worth remembering that photo buyers are looking for bargains too just like everyone else. If the photo is available cheaper on one site then guess where they will buy it from?
It’s a good idea to get the basics of licences nailed so that you don’t get wrapped up in a legal battle years down the line. It does happen so be warned!
And remember, If possible always get a model release form. Even if you intend selling it as rights managed. It is simply good practice!
Simply for clarification:
Macro sites usually sell rights managed (RM) e.g Alamy, Getty.
Micro sites usually sell royalty free (RF) e.g Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolio.