A Primer on Licensing Your Work

With so many people likely covering the CS5 launch event later today (http://cs5launch.adobe.com/), I thought I’d take a different tack on things, since the launch really is just talking about when it will be available.  (In other words, everything you hear today will be nothing more than hype and PR excitement.  Nothing to really sink your teeth into…except pricing, which has already been leaked):

  • CS5 Regular Price is $699 for the full version and $149 for the upgrade…
  • CS5 Extended Pric is $999 and $349 respectively…

So, for something to sink your teeth into – here’s the latest short of an larger article I am working on that covers the exciting, heart-stopping, living on the edge, never-say-die, run ’til you drop matter of…

Photography Licensing

Okay, so maybe it’s not that exciting, but think about licensing for a minute.  There are so many terms bandied about when it comes to licensing and usage, fees and rights, that it can be very difficult to navigate the jungle of not only what to charge, but which licensing approach will work best for you and your style of work.  Well, fear not fellow photogs!  Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the basic concepts and  terminology of licensing.  While this is not legal advice, consider it a resource that you can use as a springboard or basis for understanding.

First off, let’s get a handle on what exactly the term “licensing” means.  Licensing (in a very general sense) means that you are giving permission to print your work.  Whether that permission is granted to an individual or a company can define particular licensing options for you, in the end, it’s permission to re-print or re-use your work that licensing grants the buyer.  (Yes, this means you as the photographer are the seller!)  Also, as a general rule, if the buyer wants to use your work a lot (say National Geographic wants to print it in their magazine, on their website, and include in videos and email flyers) then you can usually command a higher price than someone who just wants to buy a single print of your work (smaller usage).  So, more use equates to a higher fee.

Now that we know what licensing is, and how pricing in general is structured, let’s take a look at some of the more common forms of licensing that you will see.  There are several categories of licensing and it can get confusing when you start to cross categories, so let’s talk about categories first, so we can distinguish all the elements involved.  The first categorization generally used is between  commercial use and non-commercial use.  Other categorizations include Rights Managed and Royalty Free.  Before delving into details on other types of licensing available, let’s cover briefly what each of these means.

Commercial Licensing

Commercial licensing means that whoever is purchasing wants to turn around and make money off your images.  They are likely going to redistribute usually in the form of print publications like magazines, corporate papers (like annual reports, brochures, and other types of media that is distributed to a decent sized audience like their stockholders, prospective clients, etc.).  As a general rule of thumb, the wider the distribution (more copies of your pictures are being printed/used), the higher the fee for usage.

Non-Commercial Licensing

Conversely, a non-commercial usage generally means that the use is not going to be generating any money for the person/company that is buying the license.  It also means that the image purchase will not be redistributed elsewhere and this is usually part of the terms of the license.  Here, a good example would be a medical office buying an image to hang on their wall, a church making a flyer, or some other instance like that.  Since this is a much narrower distribution (a.k.a. usage), the fee will not be as high as it would for commercial work.

If you think  that was a lot of reading, there’s so much more!  Licensing can be customized for pretty much any use by an attorney!  You can cross any of these and get a literal jungle of licensing protocols, including others like First Use, One Time Use, and much more!  Attorneys are available that specialize in licensing and copyright.  If you really want to get into the nitty gritty talk with them!  This is just a beginning dialog…

Speaking of dialogs – got any stories of licensing or copyright that helped save your bacon?  I’ve read a few in the NAPP forums, and from several other outlets too.  Feel free to share your own thoughts and questions in the comments or via email!  Who knows – the podcast that’s coming out soon may feature a question or two! 🙂

In the meantime, keep on shooting, and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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