PhotoPlus Panel: Why Licensing Matters

There’s no better argument for eschewing a buyout or work-for-hire contract, than Michael Grecco’s real-world example of how he earned more than $140,000 in licensing fees over an eight-year period from one advertising client. Because the contract had a set licensing period, every time the client wanted to use the images after the license expired, Grecco had to be paid again. John Harrington, Grecco’s partner for the 2011 PhotoPlus Expo seminar Licensing: Putting Money Back in Your Pocket, presented a similar case study to demonstrate how he earned $940 from an editorial client who wanted to use additional takes from a cover shoot for two sister publications not included in the license.

Of course, none of these fees would have been possible if their licensing agreements, which should always include the terms of usage (length of time, type of medium, region, etc) and exclusivity, were not clearly defined. Harrington is a big proponent of PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System), a non-profit organization with the goal “to simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights.” On its site, UsePLUS.com, there is a License Generator tool that allows users to create a license based on the criteria entered. The trade organization American Photographic Artists also has licensing information on its site, APANational.com, or you can work with an intellectual property attorney who specializes in artists’ rights. Grecco also mentioned the importance of obtaining model releases and keeping them on file, especially if you plan on selling images commercially.

An important component of licensing is copyright protection, which Grecco and Harrington also discussed. Though as the photographer you technically own the copyright of an image at the click of the camera’s shutter (unless you’re doing work-for-hire or you’ve ceded the rights of the image), actually registering the photo at the U.S. Copyright Office will make prosecuting an infringement case much easier—a lesson Grecco learned the hard way when his photos were infringed: once when a derivative work was created and another time when a work was reprinted, both without his permission.

Grecco briefly touched on his system for registering his images with the Copyright Office, which he does en masse while the photos are still unpublished (once they’ve been published they must be registered individually): He fills out the necessary forms at Copyright.gov; creates CDs or DVDs with the files, organizing them using Print Window for Mac software; and sends the discs via a shipper that provides proof of receipt, such as FedEx or UPS. This last part is particularly important since the copyright goes into effect on the date it’s submitted, which means the date it’s received by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Though the licensing process seems onerous, it’s worth the extra work; both Grecco and Harrington use their knowledge of copyright and licensing to negotiate better fees from clients. And making extra money on photographs you’ve already taken, that’s just a smarter way to do business.

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