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What to Include in Your Photography Usage Rights Agreement

Paige Newberry

Jul 5, 2022
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Whether you’re an experienced photographer or just starting your photography business, the legality around who has usage rights for your imagery can be confusing when working with a company or individual.

Clearly outlining those rights within a photography usage rights agreement can help you license your work and ensure you don’t miss out on profits when your imagery is being used.

What a Photography Usage Rights Agreement Is

A photography usage rights agreement is a legal contract that allows you as the photographer or image owner to grant specific use cases to an individual or company. Photography, similar to other artwork, is protected under copyright laws. With a usage rights agreement, you are providing licensing to the client or organization to use your photography under the boundaries set in the agreement, while still owning the copyright to the imagery.

A photography usage rights agreement is incredibly important to have when working with a client or company. While you own the copyright as soon as you take the image—unless you’re working for-hire under a company that stipulates they own the image—licensing out your photographs can be a great way to earn additional revenue. Additionally, the stipulations of the usage are outlined before the image license is purchased, so you as the copyright owner are in control of exactly how and where the image will be used.

Negative Effects of Not Having a User Agreement

Without a usage rights agreement in place, owning the copyright alone on an image won’t produce any income. Having the option to sell the licensing of your image to both clients and commercial organizations enables you to earn that additional revenue you’re looking for.

A photography usage rights agreement also allows you as the copyright owner to have total control over where and when that image can be used. These boundaries of control are set prior to signing the usage agreement between both the licensee and you as the owner. For example, you could allow your work to be used digitally on a company’s website or social media, but not allow them to use it for printed materials. Without these boundaries outlined in the agreement, you risk the licensee using your images for advertising of their own without your acknowledgment or approval.

With that in mind, without an agreement, the licensee won’t be able to legally use your image due to copyright laws. If anyone was to use your image without this agreement, no matter how large or how small the instance, they can be forced to cease and desist the use of that photograph.

Types of Licenses

When drafting your photography usage rights agreement, it’s important to outline the type of licensing you’re providing to your client. Be sure to choose the one that best suits their needs and your usage boundaries.

Exclusive/Non-Exclusive

Non-exclusive licensing allows you as the photographer to license your work out to more than one user. This means that the licensee is not the sole holder of usage rights for this particular work.

Exclusive licensing gives usage rights to a sole licensee so that your image cannot be used by anyone else or for any other types of materials. This type of exclusivity allows you as the photographer to charge a higher fee for your work.

Unlimited Use

An unlimited use license allows a client or company to use the image or images across all digital and print media. There are essentially no boundaries on this type of license. While many photographers may steer away from this type of license due to lack of control, it’s important that, if you do choose to allow unlimited use, you charge a price that’s appropriate.

Royalty-Free

A royalty-free license allows licensees to purchase the image at a flat rate while avoiding usage specifications. These images are non-exclusive and more affordable to the typical purchaser but offer less revenue for you as the photographer.

Rights-Managed

Rights-managed licenses are typically reserved for images that encompass a specific time period or place and can be used as historic imagery. This license limits and restricts the use of the image and labels it as exclusive to the license owner.

Most Popular Uses of Usage Rights

Within these licensing agreements, you as the photographer and copyright owner can determine how your image is being used. The most popular uses of usage rights are:

  • Editorial: Images can be used in editorials such as magazines, articles, news, etc.
  • Commercial: Images can be used for marketing or promotions of products and services for commercial businesses.
  • Retail: Images can be used for personal use, such as printed portraits.

Elements of a Photography Usage Rights Agreement

When you’re drafting a usage rights agreement, certain elements are necessary to include to protect your work from being used outside of your intended means. A few elements that should be included in your photography usage rights agreement template are:

  • Legal names of every party involved in the contract and what their position is in the agreement (licensee versus licensor or owner)
  • The type of license and exclusivity provided (exclusive, non-exclusive, royalty-free, etc.)
  • The price of the license, including a breakdown of rates if necessary
  • The allowed usage or permissions for the image. It is essential to outline the full detail of where and how the image can or can’t be used within this section.
  • Amount of time this agreement is valid for and time frame for use of the image

As well, what you include in the agreement can be determined by the type of client or company that’s looking to license your image. Some elements you may want to consider adding to your agreement depending on the licensee are:

  • Termination agreement terms if you want to protect yourself if needing to end an agreement in the future
  • Outline of ownership and copyright
  • Attribution requirements
  • Rights or limitations for editing your image for use
  • Sublicensing regulations or agreement

Make It Clear to Clients

A photography usage rights agreement is in place to protect you as the photographer. When presenting the agreement or contract with your clients, be sure to clearly explain each section of the usage rights agreement and why it is in place. This agreement should come after a conversation has taken place and both parties have come to an agreement on usage, pricing, and time frame.

While none of the details of the agreement should come as a surprise if the conversation was already had, your client may not be aware of how these agreements work or why certain elements must be included. Managing expectations from the beginning can save you and the client from headaches in the future as it pertains to copyright law.

How to Determine Your Photography Licensing Fees

Understanding what to charge for your licensing fees will greatly be determined by the experience and market of you as the photographer and your client. First, it’s important to know who your client is. What a small business may use your image for is vastly different from what a large corporation may use your image for.

Also, you as a photographer should pay attention to your own market and understand what other photographers in your niche are charging for licenses. Research what types of licenses are common for your niche and your market, and that will better help you set your license rates in comparison.

When it comes to the size of the client and the potential reach across their audience, the exposure and marketing potential of your image changes by the type of licensee using it and what they’re using it for. Be sure to evaluate the types of usage your client is considering, future exposure of that image, and even future business growth for that client within the given time frame.

If you are still unsure of what you should be charging for your photography licensing fees, there are tools you can find online, such as a usage calculator, to help you determine a starting point for client negotiations.

No matter your amount of experience as a professional photographer, a photography usage rights agreement can ensure your photography work is protected. Adding this as an additional revenue stream can not only increase your profits but can increase your exposure as a photographer. Licensing your images can be a professional and effective way to grow your client base as well. With Agency Access’ database of over 90,000 contacts, you can connect with other photographers, clients, and brands to take your work to the next level.

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