Photo Licensing: Do Not Give Away Your Work

 In Business & Marketing, Education

Dear fellow photographers,

It has come to my attention that some privately owned cosmetics companies are collecting images from their creators and asking to sign questionable papers that allow these companies to do anything they want with the intellectual property of the signees.

Here’s an example of the language that a Company X is using:

“I, insert your name, hereby consent that the photographs and/or motion picture I created may be used by Company X, its assignees or successors, in whatever way they desire, including television and electronic media.

Furthermore, I hereby consent that such photographs, films (other types of intellectual property), are the property of Company X and they shall have the right to duplicate, reproduce, alter and make other uses of such Materials as they may desire, free and clear of any claim whatsoever on my part”. 

Such companies may offer you a very small compensation, that is nowhere near the actual licensing costs for such uses, in exchange for your signature.

Before you agree to sign a consent like this, I want you to understand a couple of things:

  1. Photo licensing for the mentioned purposes is expensive, and by asking you to sign such a consent for a couple of hundred dollars, the company is taking advantage of you. Remember, it is your images and videos that help businesses sell their products and make big profits. If you are approached by anyone who wants this type of use of your work, make sure to speak to a professional who understands how licensing works, and what types of charges apply for different types of usage. I personally have an agent, but I know that even he sometimes consults with his colleagues to make sure we quote the correct numbers to my clients.
  2. If you are a professional photographer in the beginning of your career, or a hobbyist who plans to become a full-time pro, think of the financial health of the industry you are about to become a part of. Think of what happens when businesses get used to getting professional images and videos for a fraction of their true cost. Do not set yourself and your colleagues up for a future struggle, the industry is over-saturated as is – everyone has a decent digital camera and the competition for work is off the charts. Do not give away your work for peanuts.

I have been truly fortunate to work with the companies who value the artists they hire and they would never ask for all of these rights without offering a fair compensation.

Please be careful when agreeing to something like what is mentioned in the written consent above. I know you might be excited that a real business wants to use your work, but don’t sell yourself short – if they want your work, they will come up with funds to license it. And if they do, make sure to include the term of use – 1, 2 or 3 years depending on the compensation amount.


Here’s an excerpt from a solid article by Jeff Guyer on DIY Photography blog:

“Simply put, a license is a contract in which the photographer grants specific rights to the client who wants to use the image. The client can only use the image within the scope of the agreement. That’s it. Don’t be fooled, though, by the simplicity of the idea. Keeping in mind that simple concepts can still be complicated minefields will help you make sure that you have all your bases covered. If licensing your images is still a new aspect of your business, be sure to talk to people who’ve been where you are. Benefit from their experience and expertise. Do your homework.”

Make sure to read the full article: PHOTO LICENSING: A LOOK AT THE BASICS (+ SAMPLE LICENSE).


Featured image:

Jewelry editorial for Harper’s BAZAAR Kazakhstan @harpers_bazaarkz
Model: Mamé Adjei @mameadjei4 
MUA: Vlada Haggerty @vladamua 
Hair: Anastasia Terebova @thebraidsfactory 
Nails: @ktstyle.nails 
Jewelry: RL Jewel @rljewel 
Photography & post by Julia Kuzmenko McKim @juliakuzmenko


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  • Sophie Richards

    What can you advice to photographers who feel pressured to sign these documents? Would there be a helpline or a free legal advice that they can turn to?

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