The extra $40 (or $4000, for that matter) that showed up on your estimate might spark some warranted questions. You might be asking why there’s an extra cost or how you might be able to lower it. Typically, this will be billed as a “licensing fee” and is accompanied by legal language, which states how, where, who, and for how long a client may use a photograph or set of images. The legal term for this kind of agreement is a usage license.
Note: You will likely not see a usage license line on event photography estimates, because there is little to no resale value for event photographs. However, a photographer's contract will utilize very similar language and often will include a few lines about a licensing agreement (despite the license not receiving a line item on your bill).
What is a Usage License?
United States Copyright law, by default, states that the creator of a piece of art is the sole-owner of their work until there is a written agreement stating otherwise. The owner also has the right to share the image with others, similar to renting property or products. Licensing agreements can be as simple as a line item on an invoice, or they can be long, legal documents requiring signatures. The bottom line is that the photographer owns the copyright and right to publish images, and therefore should request a written or financial agreement before allowing anyone to use images. This protects both the photographer and the licensee.
Images can be licensed by clients who commissioned a photographer to make work, but photographers can also license images (usually for a fee) to other clients who might have use for the photos.
Licenses become particularly important and costly in commercial and editorial photography, when the client is using images to be shared in a widespread publication or when images are being sold or used in advertisements to earn money for a business. Nonetheless, a licensing agreement, no matter how high or low the cost may be, is important for every client-photographer relationship to obtain to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Usage license key points:
1. Where the image can be published
2. Who the images can be shared with
3. Whether the image was made for personal or commercial use and how it can be used within those guidelines. This often includes considerations like
— Sharing image downloads with other people or organizations
— Publishing images on social media, print publications
— Using images for advertisement or documentation
4. How long an image can be used by the licensee
The cost of licensing, and why.
Artists are both service and product-providers. When you hire a photographer, you are hiring them to provide (1) their time and service and (2) the photographs made for you to share with constituents or clients.
When a photographer relinquishes their right to use or share an image so their client can use the image exclusively the photographer loses their right to continue earning money on their products.
Compare this to a child’s toy made in a factory. The toy was born out of one artist’s design, but it’s been reproduced by the millions with each purchase allowing that artist to pay employees, business expenses, and themself.
Similarly, paying to license an image allows the photographer to continue paying to archive the image, spend time making any adjustments on the image, keep up with administrative tasks, and ensure they can keep providing services to their clients.
Considering licensing needs.
Many photographers lump the service + license cost together in an invoice, but if you see a line called “licensing fee,” it means your photographer is knowledgeable, experience and transparent about the cost of the service + the cost of the product. This also allows you to itemize and negotiate the license more thoroughly, and ensure you are receiving everything you need for a fair price.
It is important to note that lack of licensing-agreements can signal lack of experience in a photographer. You and your photographer should always discuss the terms of the license before commissioning them for work.
When discussing usage with a photographer, be sure to have a cohesive understanding of how images will be shared and used so that the cost on the estimate will be accurate. One vague statement could make an estimated cost vary by thousands of dollars. On the flip-side, if you license an image for 1-year but end up using it 3-years later, you could receive a heavy fee, a cease-and-desist letter, and in the worst cases, a lawsuit for unlawful use of a copyrighted image.
Terms to consider.
Taking particular note of when/where you might need these items will be particularly important when trying to make a licensing cost fit within budget.
Perpetuity- Right to use an image forever. Do you need to be able to use the image forever? Consider whether the photo will still be relevant to you in three years. Maybe 1-3 is enough.
Exclusivity- Right to use the photo for you / your organization only. Is the photographer allowed to share the image with others? This could include use in a magazine article, sharing it with future clients, or even using it on their own website. Giving up exclusive rights to the images could mean cost the uniqueness of your brand’s image, but it could also lower the financial cost of your licensing fee. Make sure to consider whether or not you need exclusive usage rights.
Usage- How will the image be used? If it will not be used to earn you or your organization any money you will likely not incur a heavy fee for usage. If it will be used for profit, well, that’s the cost of doing business. Some examples of for-profit use include advertisements, sharing images with constituents, and fundraising endeavors. Some examples of usage not for profit include editorial publications and personal use.
Reach out with licensing questions here. Any and all curiosities are welcome and might be published on this page.