Image Licencing – chicken or egg?

As photographers you’ll know about licencing , image usage and copyright of your work, but what about the level of understanding from the current buying community, and more importantly, the understanding from the new generation of buyers, who have little of no previous experience of commissioning images?

Photographers have the advantage of experience and exposure to the photographic process, so in general, copyright and licencing is well understood, as are the levels of cost incurred when using an image and more importantly, the benefits to buyers that licencing brings.

The biggest issue that we can see affecting the whole copyright issue is the huge discrepancy between the levels of understanding in the buying community compared to that in the photographic industry. But who is responsible for buyers’ understanding of licencing and copyright guidelines as they are now, and the continuing need to keep them informed of any changes?

Is it the photographers, the universities, buyers or is it photographic organisations?

The fact is that there is no current consensus on this, which requires everyone involved to play their own part to improve the overall awareness and acceptance of this complex issue.

We need the questions first to find the answers

This blog is designed to provoke debate, but whilst the debate will be mainly held within the photographic community. What steps can the photographic industry as a whole, make towards educating and informing buyers the benefits of usage and copyright for both parties?

We’ve deliberately raised a number of questions here, and we would be very interested to hear from photographers on how you explain image usage and keep your clients understanding of your stance on its enforcement, as well as your take on the other issues we’ve raised.


When speaking to your client about projects and the costs to deliver projects then of course the subject of copyright and licencing is broached then. But we know that all to often, the costs of image usage can make the difference between winning the job or not and usage fees can be part of negotiation.

This creates a huge dilemma. If usage is removed from quotes (to help land the job), does that inconsistency of its enforcement undervalue licencing and promote further confusion of its value and its benefits?

Arguably it does, but the reality is that you’re under huge commercial pressure to keep working!

So, how do you inform your potential clients and existing clients of copyright and licencing legislation you wish to enforce and uphold? At the end of the day it is a buyers’ market, and photographers would be well advised to make sure that they are doing everything they can to make it easy for their clients to understand it from their point of view. To understand how it works for them and to make it easy for them, rather than, for example, offer links to legal sites and expect clients read through long pieces of text.

Many photographers know that infringements usually happen with blatant theft of images, and less likely to be from their existing clients, which is another reason we hear about why they go easy on clients and quotes.


I’ve had many interesting conversations with a lot of up and coming and graduate photographers specifically about their teaching and understanding of image licencing and copyright during their course.

One such conversation was with a 3rd year graduate who mention copyright and licencing had only just been covered in her course. And the amount of time taken to explain and cover the subjects just took a few lessons.

Of course the bias towards photographic qualifications will always be towards techniques and technicality of taking pictures. But imagine the constant influx of graduate photographers who potentially have little understanding of copyright and licencing, coupled with the influx of new photography buyers with little or no understanding of copyright and licencing.

Where will that take us in the future…?


In our experience of commercial photography buyers, there are some sectors that flatly have very little or no understanding of copyright and licencing. They feel once they commission photographers, the images produced are their own and they can use the images as they see fit. But what is at times, completely missed by these companies, is that image licencing also has benefits to them.

The law is clear in protecting artists copyright and IP and any breach of agreement can result in prosecution.

So, because buyers assume licencing and copyright favours the content provider, they have little incentive to keep themselves up-to-date with legislation.

The media carries relatively few stories about breaches of licencing agreements (knowingly or otherwise) fuelling the lapse attitudes of the buyers. Further more, surely there is a David and Goliath attitude here, where the big organisation has little fear of the individual whose rights they’ve breached and assume a low success rate of successful prosecution compared to cost and effort?

Photographic Organisations

Let’s face it, there are more than a few photographic organisations out there representing the photographic community, and ample opportunity to keep informed on all things photographic.

These organisations are nearly all focused on supporting their photographer – member base, so why would a buyer listen to an organisation that doesn’t represent them – even if they were aware of them. How much influence or awareness do these organisations really have in the B2B world?

Even if buyers were directed to these sites, we can’t expect buyers to read a war and peace document on the subject. So could these organisations create more user-friendly paragraphs of information available to both buyers and photographers which were made freely available to the masses?

What Eposure are doing

We’re running a free webinar on this very subject in the next month or so, and your comments will be very useful and valuable.

A useful tool

One of our members, told us about this. If you click on this LINK for a widget in your bookmark bar. It sees images from any website page and shows you if they are being used elsewhere – with and without permission.



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