Photography rights and licenses can be a complicated topic. But there are some terms and concepts you should know to help protect yourself from theft and infringing upon others’ rights.
This post is by no means a comprehensive list or a substitute for actual legal advice. But it should offer you broad definitions that will help you navigate the world of usage rights.
Glossary of Legal Terms for Photographers
Editorial Use: Permission to use in blogs, newspapers, magazines and other publications.
Commercial Use: Permission to use in marketing and advertising to promote a product or service.
Retail Use: Permission to use in the creation of a physical product to be sold. This includes prints, posters, and products that feature the photo (pillows, mugs, etc.). Sometimes talked about in the same context as commercial use, but it should be considered separately.
Exclusive and Non-Exclusive: Exclusive use means that the one who purchases the license from you is the only one who can use the photo. Non-exclusive photo licenses can be purchased and used by anyone and usually cost less.
Public Domain: Holds no restrictions or copyright claim and can be used for commercial, editorial, and personal purposes. Works created by government agencies generally fall into this category unless otherwise stated.
Creative Commons: Conditional usage of your work is allowed as long as it is in compliance with the stated restrictions. As a bare minimum, attribution to credit the creator is required. Visit Creative Commons to generate a badge for this license for free.
Royalty-Free: Others can buy a license and use the photo for an unlimited duration and unlimited number of times. This is the most common type of license purchased and on the cheaper end of the spectrum since these photos are usually non-exclusive.
Rights-Managed: A one-time license can be purchased to use the photo with restrictions regarding distribution. Additional licenses must be purchased for additional use.
Right of Publicity: The subjects in your photos are entitled to certain rights when it comes to their inclusion in your photography, especially when it comes to commercial use. This is a separate concern from the copyright considerations above. You should seek a subject’s explicit permission first in order to be safe.
Additionally, I recommend you to go through about your own country’s copyright laws and licenses that protect your work. Look at any major stock photo site to see how they define different types of licenses.
What to Do If Someone Steals Your Photos
Theft is common when it comes to content, and many people do it unknowingly.
It’s common practice for photographers to watermark their images before posting them online to offer them at least some layer of protection against theft. If you’re going to sell or share your own photos, you can apply your own identifying mark in Photoshop or use a Watermark Generator.
A smaller watermark, often in the corner, still lets others enjoy your photo, while a larger tiled watermark with reduced opacity offers the most protection against theft.
But what do you do if someone decides to steal and use your photos anyway?
A “cease and desist“ request will usually work in most cases. Or you can send the culprit an invoice for using your photo. A combination of the two will likely be the most effective at persuading the perpetrator by offering them the choice to either pay you or take the photo down.
At the very least, you should always try to get others to credit you whenever they borrow your work, even if it’s just for editorial purposes. Remember that links back to your portfolio site are not only good for driving traffic back to your other work but also good for search engine optimization(SEO) and helping your standing in Google search results.
Licensing photography can be an incredibly beneficial income stream for a photographer. Commercial and editorial photographers will be dealing with these issues much more often than retail photographers. But any and every talented photographer out there has a library of images with licensing potential. Navigating your way through the combination of business, legal, and artistic considerations can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It gets easier, and there are resources available to help.
This post is a part of the article that appeared in Shopify.