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Stock Photography Licensing

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/26/2010

When entering the world of stock photography, it is important to understand what buyers are allowed to use your images for. This article explains some of the different stock business models and different uses these models allow.

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    Stock Photography

    Stock photography has been around a long time. Starting in the early 1900s. Stock photography was a way for photographers to make some money from the seconds and outtakes from paid shoots, but now it's big business! There are photographers all over the world that specialize in only stock photography.

    There are many different types of stock photography. If your dream is to become a stock photographer, or even if you just want to learn more about the industry, then understanding what buyers can do with your photos is a good place to start. There are two major types of licenses, royalty-free and rights managed.

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    Royalty-Free Image Licensing

    When selling stock photography, the most common type of license used is called royalty-free. This means that a buyer is purchasing the right to use a photo for a designated amount of copies on one product. This is usually a standard amount set by the agency that is representing the photo. Typically each agency has its own contract with its own restrictions. A photographer should read each usage contract thoroughly to ensure there is nothing in it they disagree with. The main thing to understand when it comes to royalty-free licensing, is that when someone buys a photo, they only have the right to use it for a specific number of copies and only for one product, for example, one brochure design or one advertisement. If that client wants the same photo for a second use, they must purchase the photo again. Another important thing to note is that there are often major differences between traditional agencies like Getty and Alamy, who sell photos for hundreds of dollars each, when compared to microstock agencies, who sell photos for substantially less. I can't stress enough to read and understand an agency's contract before you submit to them. Stock photography agencies aren't crooks but there may be something in a contract that you normally would not agree to.

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    Rights Managed Licensing

    Rights managed is the golden goose of stock photography but it is not easy to get into a rights managed agency. Most photographers who submit to stock photography agencies may never get the chance to submit to a rights managed agency. The competition is fierce because this is where the money is. Rights managed means that the agency will negotiate the sale of your photo to the buyer based on a number of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the industry of the buyer, what use the photo will serve, and how much money the buyer can pay. Normally the buyer asks for certain restraints to be put on the photo after purchase. One example might be that for the next three years the photo is not allowed to be sold to any other buyer looking to use the photo for an advertising campaign in America, or another example would be that the photo is not allowed to be sold to an Australian company in the oil and gas industry for the next year. Each contract is custom made and is typically completely handled by the agency, not the photographer.

    No matter what kind of stock photography you are going to sell, it is important to understand your rights as a photographer and what rights you are giving to a perspective buyer.