Seeking advice about commercial image licensing

LiveAwakeLiveAwake Registered Users Posts: 263 Major grins
edited April 18, 2014 in Mind Your Own Business
Hi all,

I mostly do nature/art photography, but occasionally I pick up commercial work with people who need something that I know I can do well. Last year I did a job involving some night photography for a landscape lighting designer. I charged him a session fee to cover my time, plus a fee of $75 for each image that he selected to license for promotional purposes.

He recently contacted me and said that he is writing a book for Timber Press, would like to use some of the images, and wants to know what my fee for this will be. I'm enough of a newbie to the world of commercial licensing & rights that I'm not really sure what my answer should be.

To clarify, here are some of the relevant terms in the license agreement that we already signed:
  1. I retain copyrights to the images
  2. He is granted non-exclusive, non-transferrable right to use and reproduce the images for commercial and promotional purposes, including web and print publication.
  3. He does not have the right to grant third parties permission to reproduce the images.
  4. Photo credit and/or web links are to appear with print/web uses of the images.
I guess the truth is that I'm not entirely sure what I've already given rights for, or whether this is something that I should charge more for. And if I do charge more, I have no idea what's reasonable/normal.

Can anyone give some insight into this?


  • chrisjohnsonchrisjohnson Registered Users Posts: 771 Major grins
    edited April 8, 2014
    Royalty per copy sold?
  • LiveAwakeLiveAwake Registered Users Posts: 263 Major grins
    edited April 8, 2014
    Do you have any info on that method? ie, how much should I expect per copy (I believe he will use 5 images)? How do I track this or bill for it?
  • OffTopicOffTopic Registered Users Posts: 521 Major grins
    edited April 13, 2014
    LiveAwake it appears that you originally gave him a Royalty Free license to use the image in web and print publications and legally he probably doesn't need to pay you an additional license fee, unless you added an expiration date (not typical with royalty free) and the original license has expired or maybe he originally licensed low-res images for web use and now needs the full size high res version? That is why I always stick with Rights Managed licensing (and I never license with the standard SmugMug royalty free license). Royalty free allows multiple usages with incurring additional licensing fees, usually indefinitely. A rights managed license places specific limitations on how the image may be used (size, placement, duration, etc.) and would state something like "usage in book on landscape lighting, 1/4 page, 10,000 copies, North America, 7 years".

    Which brings up another question, did you originally license the images to the person or to the business? If you licensed them to the business for business use, and he now wants to use them personally in a book he is authoring under his personal name, then you probably could say that he needs an additional license (different legal entity).

    You can get a good idea of the going rate for a specific usage by seeing what the current going rate would be on stock sites like Alamy/Getty/Corbis (not microstock) and/or using a program such as BlinkBid, then taking those numbers as a starting point I would factor in things like: you won't be paying agency commission, he's licensing multiple images, he already paid to license the images previously (I always discount for license renewal), and any other factors you think you should consider to raise or lower your license fee.

    If it were me, if I determined that the usage was covered under the original license I would probably just ask for a copy or two of the completed book to add to my portfolio since he initiated the request.

    If you determine that the usage does require an additional license, it appears that Alamy, Getty and Corbis all come in around $300-$500 per image for this usage (for both rights managed and royalty free, depending if full page image or smaller) which is way out of the ballpark considering you already licensed them royalty free (essentially unlimited usage) for $75 each.

    And I should be clear that IANAL, I just have several years of experience in Rights Managed licensing of images.
  • LiveAwakeLiveAwake Registered Users Posts: 263 Major grins
    edited April 15, 2014
    Thanks for this input. I guess I have a bit to learn about licensing - is it normal to provide images with rights-managed licenses even when you are hired to create them (rather than simply providing images you've made on your own for license)?
  • OffTopicOffTopic Registered Users Posts: 521 Major grins
    edited April 18, 2014
    Sorry for the delay in responding, I've had a busy couple of days.

    To answer your question if it's typical to do rights-managed licensing for assignment work, it depends on your business model and your arrangement with your client. When you say "hired to create" you need to understand that there is a legal definition of "work made for hire", in which case you turn over all rights (including your copyright) to the client. Read through the paperwork you signed with this client and make sure there isn't Work Made for Hire language. If there is, you no longer have any rights or claim to the images and he can do as he wants with them.

    Yes it is typical that an estimate for an assignment shoot would include your creative fee/day rate, expenses, and the (rights managed) licensing fee, but you can alter that to fit a particular client. For example, I do regular work for a national brand that also has a digital publication. In my creative fee/day rate I include one-time editorial rights to the images and that is how my contract is worded. Since I do regular work for them it just makes it easier for both of us. If they want to use any of the images for any other commercial purposes they need to pay an additional licensing fee and at their request I gave them a fee schedule (with an expiration 2014 Commercial Licensing Fee Schedule for Client XXXXX) to keep on file.

    The reason for doing rights managed is the exact situation in your first post...the client now wants to use the images for a purpose not originally intended. Rights managed licensing allows you to collect an additional fee for the new usage, a royalty free license means he already paid for that new usage and you are not entitled to any more money.

    There will always be some photographers who will turn over the images for one price, sometimes because they don't understand licensing and sometimes because they feel it is a better fit for them. And if your client is not familiar with licensing or has been working with mainly amateur or part-time photographers who turn over the images at the end of the shoot (typically small businesses), you may have to educate them as to why rights-managed works to their advantage.

    A great resource to better understand how to price and negotiate an assignment shoot is A Photo Editor, he does some great writeups breaking down the entire process for real life proposals and discusses how it turned out with the client.

    And a good overview of licensing and how it relates to assignment work can be found on ASMP
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