It’s a photographer’s job to protect their own work and they do this by being very clear with clients in their contracts. So many photographers work without any legal contract or sign contracts without being aware of the implications and sometimes (some) clients take advantage of that.
The fundamental point is the following. Unless the client is actually buying the copyright to your work (also informally known as ‘buyout’) they are merely ‘renting’ your work, so your fee is supposed to compensate you for the actual work you need to carry out in order to produce the content PLUS the usage rights (the ‘rent’) to the content itself. The way it works is exactly the same as for movies or music. Unless a TV network has actually created a TV show and is the copyright owner of that show, they are just ‘renting’ that content, they are buying the rights to show that content to their viewers.
Usage rights need to be agreed upon by photographer and client through a contract. The types of rights are not really standardized and we’re fairly free to define them any way we want as log as we’re consistent and clear about what we mean. Below are the most common types of rights that I personally use in my contracts. The category in the list can be further subcategorized as much as needed, but I don’t think it’s necessary for the purpose of this post. I just want to bring awareness to the issue, because it’s being neglected by so many photographers out there.
1) Transfer of copyright ownership from photographer to client, aka ‘buyout’.
The photographer loses all the rights to their images, but normally they are allowed to show the work in their portfolio and claim authorship when marketing themselves. Buyout should be very rare and, when requested by the client, they should be prepared to pay a very high price.
2) Commercial Usage Rights
The images are used to advertise or promote something that has commercial value, such as a product or service.
3) Editorial Usage Rights
Images used for content that is informational in nature, not commercial. Typical examples are images used in magazines and newspapers. However, the fact that images appear in a magazine or newspaper does not automatically mean they don’t serve a commercial purpose. You can do advertising in those media as well and, if that’s the case, the usage rights fall into the Commercial category.
Category 2) and 3) can be further limited by using the following variables:
a) Time or occurrences (Examples: 1 year, 1 occurrence, in perpetuity)
b) Market or geographical region (Examples: North America, Worldwide)
c) Type of medium (Examples: Print, Digital, Social Media, any medium)
d) Exclusivity (Examples: exclusive to one single client, exclusive to one market, no exclusivity)
Commercial usage rights for one year (time limitation) in North America (market or geographical limitation) digital only (limitation to one type of medium), non-exclusive (the photographer can further license the images to more than one client simultaneously).
Price will change based on the limitations that have been agreed upon. Moving down from category 1) or increasing the limitations through a), b), c), d) will diminish the value of the images, hence its price.
The entire picture becomes more complicated with talent. If the photographer is coordinating the talent, you need to make sure that the usage rights for talent match those you are contracting with your client.
What is your experience with usage rights? Please share your experience with the community by commenting down below. If you enjoyed this information, please share it on your own channels.
Thank You and Happy Shooting!