Stock Photography Licenses

What is a stock photography license?
A stock photography license is an agreement in which the photographer, who owns the copyright to an image, grants specific usage rights to the purchaser of that image. The license outlines the scope in which the image may be used by the licensee.

Rights-Managed and Royalty-Free
Stock photography industry breaks down into two dominant model types – a rights-managed a royalty-free. While there are other licensing models in stock photography, I will only outline these two because they are the most commonly used in the stock photography industry.

Rights-Managed (RM)
Rights-managed images are licensed for a specific project with restrictions on usage. Buyers are asked to provide specifics of the image use, such as type of media, image placement, duration of use, and geographic distribution, which determines the price of the license. For example, the price of an image licensed for a magazine cover with a circulation of 50,000 copies will be different than the price of the same image licensed for the home page of a corporate website. Under a rights-managed license, neither of these images can be used in any other projects other than those specified by the license. Rights-managed images can be licensed with exclusive rights.

Royalty-Free (RF)
With royalty-free images, the buyer pays a one-time fee for the image, which grants them unrestricted use of the image for any number of projects. Buyers don’t have to pay any additional royalties for successive uses, hence the name royalty-free. In other words, once a buyer pays for a royalty-free image – they can use it on a website, flyer, or anywhere else simultaneously. However, the rights are non-transferable, meaning the image can only be used by the buyer. The pricing for royalty-free licensed images is based solely on the image pixel dimensions. Unlike rights-managed licenses, royalty-free licenses are always non-exclusive.

Both rights-managed and royalty-free licenses may have restrictions that state “Editorial Use Only”. Images marked as “Editorial Use Only” cannot be used for commercial proposes due to the fact that the photos depict identifiable people or property for whom model or property releases haven’t been obtained or if they include copyrights, trademarks or someone else’s intellectual property. These images are used for journalistic or educational purposes and generally require a byline that includes the photographer’s / source’s name below the image or as otherwise indicated by the licensor.

Why choose Rights-Managed licenses?
Licensing royalty-free images may sound like the better deal when compared to the cost of rights-managed images. However, the added cost of rights-managed license is justified when you consider the benefits. Professional photographers usually only deal in rights-managed licenses because it gives them more control over how their work is used. This means rights-managed images are usually of a higher quality than royalty-free images, which are often offered by amateurs.

As I mentioned before, rights-managed license implies a specific use of how, when, and where an image is used which gives much greater control and reduces the risk that an image you purchased specific rights to for your brand is ever used by a competitor – which is an assurance you don’t have with royalty-free images. In the end, less expensive royalty-free images could end up costing your business or your brand exponentially more than higher quality, when you factor in lost revenue from a failed marketing campaign or negatively affected brand reputation.

Having something fresh and unique that sets your brand apart from the competition is imperative to its success. Conversely, royalty-free images may have already been circulated to thousands of people across a myriad of projects, which detracts from the image’s originality and diminishes its value.