What Are Licensing Fees For Product Photography?
In an easy to understand answer; licensing fees refer to the purchase of usage rights to the content produced by someone else. When you purchase these usage rights, you’re essentially requesting that you be permitted to post, print, or share the media that belongs to the content creator. For photographers, this means providing limited use to their clients so they can use photos and videos in their marketing, media, and sales. This is separated by time, by types of media and by usage.
How does this tie into product photography?
Product photography is priced in a structure of three components; production costs, creative fees (ie a photo fee), and license fees. The production costs relate to the expenses of the studio in preparation for the set and the project. These are determined differently based on each photographer’s unique business structure and available gear. The creative fees are often calculated within the production fees but are dependent on a few other factors, mainly relating to the time, effort, and experience the photographer contributes in building, shooting, and processing a photography project. The license fees relate to providing legal authority to a client to use the photographer’s intellectual property in their brand media. Without licensing fees, brands are legally not permitted to use photos or videos produced by a studio.
There are several types of license fees, a few of them as follows
A limited use license provides a defined outline for where, when, and how long an image can be used. Limited licenses are usually set in yearly intervals, or purchased for shorter time frames; quarterly for example. Within these limited use licenses, criteria such as defining if the photo is to be used in printed products or shared on social media channels, or used as website content are clearly set out and often available for renewing at the end of their cycles. This can be useful if a brand often refreshes its media content and wishes to maximize its budget options.
An unlimited license has more flexibility and often carries longer use periods within the fee structure. With an unlimited license, a client may have the ability to use the media in nearly any format or medium, including print, and is a common request for clients who may not know how many options they may need for using the photos or videos they’re purchasing. The copyright, however, remains with the photographer and that makes the difference between an unlimited license and an exclusive one.
Exclusive licenses are not always available from all studios, but they carry the most weight. These license fees essentially sell the full copyright of images to the client indefinitely to use as they wish for however long they wish. These are costly, and often come with limitations in who has access to the content. In many cases, this relinquishes the rights of the photographer and prevents them from using the images in their own marketing or portfolio. Because of the extent of these licenses, they’re often priced heavily and some photographers will not provide the option at all.
Which license do I need for my brand?
This is often a confusing topic for clients and may require an in-depth discussion with the brand team and the photography studio to understand what is the best method to choose a license fee. If you can ask yourself, do you plan to use the same images in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years? Do you need the exclusivity and have your content shared solely on your own terms and platforms? For many companies, media such as photos and videos outlast their usage within a year. For example, a holiday collection for this year, may not be used for the same promotions next year, so the images may not need such an extensive usage license.
The common misconceptions:
“These are photos of my products, so they should be mine, right?”
Unless you took the photo yourself, the creative behind the lens will own the rights to the images, regardless of what is on set. The rules change for the creatives if they plan to sell those images, in which case, they need to purchase their own usage rights from the brand listed in the image, and that’s an entirely different topic with its own terms and conditions.
“I can keep using the images after the license expires anyway”
As with most legal terms, there is a risk of using stolen content for your personal or professional endeavors. And once a license expires, that content shared outside the scope of terms is legally considered stolen. This means the photographers could pursue legal action to protect their content if they feel its usage is infringing on their rights. A renewal of usage rights is the preferred method to continue using content procured by a studio. Some photographers also offer preferred rates for renewals which could be of interest if considering the use of the same content.
The real difference between commercial and personal licenses
Fees are structured in a very specific manner. If a client is purchasing photos for use in their personal endeavors, where no monetary or for-profit actions are associated with the image(s), the fee structure changes for licensing. It is often considered in stock image websites and goes hand in hand with one-time use license options; where the customer may buy one item for use in one location at one time.
Commercial licenses differ in the sense that the customer is pursuing profit from the use of those images, and therefore enters into a profit share agreement with the studio. There are several types of commercial license components, including royalty fees, or lump sums that depend on the size and scope of the client audience or for promotional advertising. As each project with each client is undoubtedly unique, so too are the licensing fees associated with an image.
One size does not fit all
Always refer to your contracts, discuss in depth with your photographer what your plans are for the images you’re preparing within the project, and ask questions that will help you both come to an understanding and an agreement in terms of usage rights. There is no simple monetary number for license fees, and the range of options make it difficult to ballpark any sort of starting price. Once it’s understood that the use of the intellectual property of the creator is for the betterment of a brand, and specifically set up to cover all the most important factors a client is looking for, the terms and conditions relating to their usage rights become easier to navigate.