This is a very brief overview about licenses for using photos both online and offline. As photographers we are talking about license from a photography point of view, but many of the same principles apply for any creative media whether that be video, illustration, words or music….
Photos are an important part of marketing any business or project. All too often businesses will spend time and money on defining their brand, designing their website, writing the content, optimising their SEO but then neglect their images. We all know the popular phrase “a photo speaks 1000 words”.
There are two main ways to source photos:
- Commission a photographer
- Buy from an image library
Which ever you choose, it is vitally important that you obtain the correct license for how you want to use the images. Whilst you have a license to use the photos, the copyright belongs to the photographer, whether you’ve commissioned them or bought from an image library. Intellectual and creative copyright is a specialist area of law for the very reason that it can get very complicated. The law is there to protect the artist and with photography whoever pressed the shutter is the creator and the copyright holder.
When choosing photos for your business, whether online or in print, it’s important to provide a clear brief to the photographer at the time of the shoot, or the person who is searching for images for you, about what you want to do with the photos.
- Do you want the photos for your website or to illustrate an article you are writing in trade-press?
- Do you want to use them in printed brochures?
- Or in a book you’re writing?
- And where is the brochure going to be distributed or the book published, just in the UK or worldwide?
- And what is the print run?
- Are you planning to sell merchandise that may have the photo on to tie-in with your brochure or book?
All these factors affect which type of license you need and unfortunately will also affect the cost.
An author wrote a book that was due to have a European print run of 5000 copies. He commissioned a designer to source an image for the cover and gave them that brief. One was found and a license was purchased for a small print run in Europe. The book did well, and the author decided to re-print and sell in New Zealand and Australia, but he didn’t check the licensing agreement for his cover photo… Instead of a few hundred pounds to extend the license to worldwide use, he ended up with a fine of thousands…
So the licenses, there are many…
Royalty-free gives you permission to use a stock image in a certain way and you don’t have to pay a royalty each time you use it (royalty – think about musicians who are paid a royalty every time their song is played on the radio).
Royalty free images are non-exclusive – this means that the image can be used by many different people, so you could find your closest competitor is using the same image as you and there is nothing you can do about it…
Unless you buy an exclusive license. Exclusive use means just that, the image is licensed exclusively to you for the purpose that you state… But you may still find that another company, in another region is using the same image in a different way.
Regardless of whether you are commissioning a photographer or buying from an image library you generally need to state;
- What you are using the photo for
- Where in the world it will be used
- How long it will be used for (the longer you want to license the image, the more expensive it will be)
- What size the print-run is going to be (for example when buying image from iStock, a print run of 500,000+ needs an extended license).
Editorial is perhaps the most confusing license.
Editorial images illustrate and reflect issues, subjects and events. The people and places in these photos may not have given their permission to be photographed and so the images cannot be used to sell anything. Editorial photos are for non-commercial, non-promotional use only.
The golden rule of editorial imagery is that you cannot use them to make money. They can be used to illustrate a story or an article but only in the context that they were taken.
A financial company writes an article in trade-press about a banker in the industry risking being sent to jail. To illustrate the article they use a photo of the ‘Go straight to jail’ square on a Monopoly board that has an editorial license. This is fine. They cannot then write a book, let’s say a biography about the banker who was sent jail, and use the same photo, because this then becomes commercial use (they are making money). Nor can they use the Monopoly board photo to promote the book because this then becomes promotional…
This all sounds scary stuff, particularly if all you are wanting is some photos for your website, but as with the author earlier it’s better to make sure you are correctly licensed than risk a fine.
The one thing you MUST NOT DO is use that right click, save as button… Do not, under any circumstances just copy an image from a website and use on your own site or on printed literature. Firstly, this is illegal; secondly you don’t know what license is associated with the image.
There are a number of websites where you can source images royalty free, the main one I’d suggest is Getty RF but it’s still important to check the license!
If you are buying through an image library, when you select a photo it is very clear what you can and cannot do with it. When commissioning a photographer, most will happy to talk you through the different options at the briefing stage. Most professional photographers use the Association of Photographers (AOP) terms and conditions that give four clear options in terms of license.
We took all the photos used in this post! This means we hold the copyright and can use them as we wish!
Disclaimer: If you have any specific questions or issues relating to your use of photos we highly recommend contacting an Intellectual and Copyright lawyer or specialist as this is a very complex area of law. We are photographers, not lawyers and this post is a brief overview from a photographers point of view. All content is offered for informational purposes only.