If you’re interested in a foray into stock photography, there many different types of licenses of which you need to be aware. Some are incredibly restrictive in terms of what the image can be used for while other licenses have no guidelines for use. In this primer, we identify the most common types of licenses and explain what each means for you.
Images identified as public domain generally do not come with a license. As a result, public domain images can be downloaded by the end-user and used for virtually any purpose, including for both personal and commercial purposes. Some images begin in the public domain, such as those you assign to the public domain yourself. Others are moved to the public domain after their copyright expires.
The advantage of placing some of your images in the public domain is that it is a widely used collection of images for people from all walks of life. That means your images get a lot of exposure and can lead people to have a look at your royalty-based images.
The Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has created a series of image copyrights that are both easy to use and easy to understand. The standardized licenses allow you to decide how people can share your work, and the purposes for which they can use your images. Each of the six primary Creative Commons licenses requires an attribution of some kind, from CC BY that allows others to use your work for personal or commercial purposes so long as you’re the attributed creator of the work, to CC BY-NC-ND, which restricts usage of your images to simply downloading and sharing the image without making any alterations, and with attributing you as the creator of the work.
Again, the benefit of adding some of your photos to the Creative Commons is the wide exposure your images can get. It’s essentially free advertising, with your images available for anyone to share.
Royalty Free License
A royalty free (RF) license is probably the most common stock photography license today. It allows the purchaser of the image to use it in whatever application they desire after purchasing the rights to the image for a flat rate. The creator of the image receives a one-time royalty based on each purchase from microstock websites like iStockPhoto and Shutterstock, which gives you the potential for a nice payday, assuming your images sell well on stock sites.
There are some limitations with this license. For example, if you use the image in a very large number of print applications (i.e. more than 500,000 copies) an extended license is usually required. Sometimes, if an image will be used for different purposes (i.e. on a website, print materials, t-shirts, and tote bags), an extended license will be necessary as well.
Royalty Free Extended License
As noted above, in situations in which a user wants to use your image for multiple purposes, they are required to purchase an extended license. Stock photography sites offer extended licenses for these uses, including the 500,000+ copies and derivative products like t-shirts and tote bags noted above. Extended licenses are also required if the end-user intends to include the image on digital templates for resale, such as website layouts or brochure designs. If more than one person needs to have access to the image, such as members of a website design team, an extended license may also be required.
Editorial Use Only
Stock images that contain brand names, logos, or other recognizable product information, celebrity likenesses, and certain events are licensed as editorial use only. In this instance, your images can only be downloaded and used in newsworthy applications. For example, an image you’ve taken of a pair of running shoes that clearly shows the manufacturer’s logo could be downloaded and used by a journalist for a story on the health benefits of running. However, it could not be downloaded and used in a blog post on a website to promote a product related to running.
Rights Managed License
Similar to editorial use only licenses, a rights managed (RM) license is highly specific regarding what the end-user can do with the image they download. In fact, an RM license requires users to identify the specific number of copies of the image that will be printed, the size of the image, the length of time the image will be used, and the industry in which the image will be used. Additionally, users must re-license the image if it is to be used in a different medium from the original application. Because the use of images under the RM license is so restricted, it is uncommon to see this type of license offered on stock photography sites.
Regardless of the medium you decide to use to sell your stock photography, keep in mind the types of licenses that are available and how they might impact your bottom line. Better yet, see how you can diversify your images to maximize your profits - perhaps you offer some images under a royalty free license on a microstock site as well as some RM images licensed with a rights managed agency. The point is to use these license types to your advantage to ensure that your stock photography efforts prove to be fruitful.