This post is the first in a three-part series on rights managed photography by Allen Murabayashi, PhotoShelter co-founder and an avid photographer.
With the seemingly endless supply of photography, it can often seem silly to pay more than a few bucks for an image. The rise of so-called “microstock” in the past decade reinforced the idea that photography isn’t worth more than a dollar, yet we intuitively know this is not the case. Consider the many mediocre images of the Empire State Building, and then take a look at Pari Dukovic’s cover image from the November 2015 issue of Condé Nast Traveler.
The style of photography might not be your particular cup of tea, but the cover was undeniably eye-catching on the newsstand and was differentiated from almost every other photo of the building you’ve probably ever seen. It was also named as one of TIME’s top magazine covers of 2015. Dukovic’s images won’t be found on a microstock site. You can either commission him to create new work for you, or you can go to Trunk Archive to license one of his existing images as rights managed stock.
When photography was film-based and there were no camera phones, there were fewer people calling themselves photographers, and fewer images for organizations to use. The law of supply and demand made photography more precious, and stock photos (that is, images that had been pre-shot) were licensed as rights managed.
Rights Managed (RM) images give the licensee the ability to use a specific image in a specific way for a specific period of time. The price is generally calculated based on the following factors:
- Image usage (e.g. Commercial, Editorial, Digital, Internal, etc)
- Usage specs (e.g. image size, run size, duration, etc)
- Target market (e.g. one state, a country, worldwide)
Like any piece of intellectual property (whether music, photography, software or a drug formula), the end user doesn’t own the underlying IP. When you buy a copy of Microsoft Office, you are buying a license to use the software on your computer. You can’t resell the software. You can’t use it on more than a couple of computers. And you don’t have the right to the computer code that underlies the program. Similarly, with photography, you are almost always buying a license to use the image in a specific way – not the underlying copyright, which would ostensibly allow you to do anything with the image.
In the mid-1990s, in lock step with the rise of desktop publishing, royalty free (RF) photography came on the scene in the form of CDs (and later DVDs) loaded with generic imagery, which was often of inferior quality to what you might find in a rights-managed catalog. But that distinction has generally been obliterated with the advent of digital photography and the internet. There is good and bad photography in both the RF and RM realm. But only RM licenses gives your organization exclusivity over an image.
Whether you’re using RM or RF images, you’re still bound by certain restrictions that govern how you can use an image. In the next post, we’ll explore the advantages of rights managed images.
- Photography is a form of intellectual property
- Rights managed and royalty free licenses are two common licensing schemes in photography
- Rights managed photography is licensed based on a specific usage
Check out part two of this series, Why Use Rights Managed Photography?