Dealing With An “All Rights” Request

Posted on 10/28/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (11)

It should be no surprise to anyone that currently 99% of the images licensed annually are being licensed as Royalty Free. And many of the images licensed as Rights Managed are also licensed with more or less unlimited right to use them in a variety of different ways.

The simple fact is that any editorial or marketing piece produced today may be delivered in a variety of different ways over a long period of time. Customers simply don’t want to take the risk that plans will change and somehow an image will be used beyond a narrow and specific RM license making them liable for unexpected fees and penalties. On the other hand, only in rare instances can buyers justify paying the kind of fees those who license their images as RM used to expect for unlimited rights, particularly when there are so many good quality RF images available.

Recently a photographer blogged that “We had a National Building Contractor that wanted a quote to purchase all rights to our work. Is anyone doing this? We did not take that client on but it would be of interest to see if other photographers would have done this, any thoughts?”

The photographer rejected the job because he felt that in order to do the job he had to give up his copyright. That may have been the case, but from the way it was described it sounded like when he heard the term “all rights” there was no more discussion and he walked away.

Often when a client uses the term "all rights" what he really means is that he wants to be able us the image in any way he can think of in the future without paying an additional fee. He may want to use it in an ad, on a poster, a print for his wall, or give it to some publication that is going to do a story about his company. If something like that comes up he wants to be free to use the image.

The buyer doesn't necessarily want to "own the copyright" (probably doesn't know what copyright is) and he may not care if the photographer makes other uses of the picture.

So the first thing to consider is WHAT DOES THE CLIENT REALLY MEAN BY ALL RIGHTS. Get specific. You'll be amazed at the answers you get.

Instead of getting upset every time a client says "all rights" try to identify the ways he might conceivably want to use the image in the future. Keep in mind that there will undoubtedly be a lot of Internet use even if he doesn't know it yet. There may be no likelihood whatsoever that the client will want to use the picture in a major print ad (which would justify a very high all right fee).

In today's world most customers don't want to pay an additional fee each time they make an additional use of an image. Keeping track of new usages is too complicated. Thus, if the photographer doesn't want to dramatically limit the number of customers he is willing work for, he must try to make his best estimate of all the ways the image might be used and charge accordingly for those rights up front.

For more on this subject check out RM: Adapting To The New Realities and Time To Retire RM Pricing 

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 28, 2014
    Jim, I can add something to that mindset.

    We sometimes get asked "Buyout" of image. We NEVER do that -- period. That would mean you send the copyright to them and then you can NOT use it. We simply say, we can sell you "Unlimited Usage." We do add a lot of extra money on (usually 3-5 times the cost) and they can have Unlimited Usage. That is what they really want -- just do NOT let them use BUYOUT or COPYRIGHT of your images. You can make the sale, but make it a lot more than just using once etc. The same for Exclusive stock sale--- make it worth your while to take it out of other possible sales for a period of time!

  • Jaak Nilson Posted Oct 29, 2014
    I live in nordic Europe, Estonia. Every time I shoot an assignment work for construction company or another client than they can use an images later as they wants. It is normal. Of course they can not resell my work, but if they wants to use photos in web or in print media no additional fees later. Sometimes some clients asking if they use a photo in magazine what to do. Then I tell, if magazine is ready to pay some fee to me then it is welcome. So we usually working all the time that images will be a customer property . Otherwise a customer does not hire that photographer.
    Sure, a photographer is copyright holder. If I want to sell these images as stock I have to ask for permission. Some companies are not allow to sell their locations as stock.

    Jaak Nilson

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Nov 1, 2014
    First, giving up or licensing "all [publication] rights” rarely means relinquishing one's copyright along with them. Of course that was acknowledged in the article.

    Second, it is possible to offer any given client what’s known as a Contingency Fee Schedule, a document that spells out prices associated with, and in anticipation of, further use in the future.
    It holds the photographer accountable for those prices. That will often assuage a buyer.

    Finally, and more pertinent to the discussion, is the fact that the “99% of images licensed annually . . . Royalty Free” invoked in this post applies to approximately 40% of total marketplace sales, when taking both the Assignment and Stock photo segments into account. RF sales involve bloggers, shopkeepers, and other freelancers (perhaps just like the photographer herself) looking for cheap pictures to fill up their Web sites. Small potatoes. Ad agencies, corporate communicators, editorial media, and SMBs in many cases demand the kind of exclusivity that stands out from the crowd(sourced) and—I believe increasingly so, in a “back-to-the-future" sort of way. They still license images in a rights-managed capacity, understanding the get what they pay for. They shop for pictures, not prices. They know who butters their bread.

  • Jaak Nilson Posted Nov 1, 2014

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Nov 1, 2014
    Good comment, Tom Zimberoff. I agree 100%....

    We MUST let stock shooter know that 1. Never give away copyright and 2) MANY clients are willing to pay for good images in RM.

    Pickerell so wants to tell all beginners the ONLY way is Microstock or RF --- that is simply NOT TRUE. Then he wonders why the stock photo business makes less money. Because he suggests the only way is cheap! I sell only RM and have forever. I have also started others doing that and they are making $$. I so wish Pickerell (who is a friend, btw) would let photographers know you can still VALUE your photos and find success selling them for more money. He wants to always scream "The sky is falling!" And that is misleading....

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Nov 1, 2014
    Jaak Nilson.... looked at your blog and wanted to make a reply. Then I had to register and then you send form that wants so much information that I feel I was buying a house. So I left site without doing that or replying. Much too difficult to say a few words.

    To reply... you equate buying potatoes and then having to pay more is RM if you want to reuse potato?? If you equate potatoes to photography, I love to think of what photography you are looking at. It is art, a creation, an idea. I do not pay to use potatoes again (or toothpaste), but this is creative work and it is NOT disposable! If I write a song and YOU want to use it for advertising, you can NOT reuse it in another ad campaign without paying me MORE. Same with my photography. Sorry, I don't equate like you do.

    Go eat your potatoes!

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Nov 1, 2014
    It can mean a dozen different things to a dozen different people. It has no recognized legal definition. If it can’t be eliminated altogether from the vocabulary of the photo marketplace, it’s meaning should be kept vague. Instead, your licensing language must be specific.

    Sure, buyers often demand more rights than they need. Sometimes they’re honestly unsure, and sometimes it’s a bargaining tactic. More often they are simply unfamiliar with how licensing works or for whose benefit.

    A copyright license should reflect only the rights that are both necessary and sufficient to cover a buyer's needs. It keep the price manageable for the buyer. Photographers must be sensitive to those needs, however, because buyers have invested a tremendous amount of money in branding their corporate and product identities. They have rights of their own to protect. Speak about those rights with buyers. With that kind of mutual understanding, they save money; your bottom-line price reflects only the actual commercial value they derive from using your own assets. It's in your mutual interest to keep the price affordable.

    If a buyer is unsure about usage, introduce the idea of a Contingency Fee agreement (an options plan, so to speak) to accompany your invoice. It eliminates questions about future price (there usually aren’t any) and keeps it low initially. However, it also establishes a higher value, a precedent, for your work in the present. If a buyer’s demands are dictated by use, it's a straightforward matter to reach a mutually satisfying deal. It becomes a negotiation about money, not rights.

    The principle is simple. If you fly out of town for business, it doesn’t make sense to buy a new car when you reach your destination; you’ll rent one. The rental company has you sign a contract. You agree to pay for using their car based on how long and where you intend to drive it. A Cadillac costs more than a Hyundai. The licensor (the car owner) doesn't relinquish ownership to you, the licensee. You simply pay for the right to use it for a specified length of time.

    The demand for a buyout is sometimes used as a bullying tactic when a buyer is too lazy to determine specific needs. They know better. Simply informing them that you know better, too, will change the nature of your negotiation. Parse it for them.

    Instead of capitulating to an absolute buyout, you might offer your client a “buyout in the State of Rhode Island exclusively.” Or how about an exclusive license for all rights, but lasting for only six months (after which they revert back to you)? Alternatively, might they consider an “all-rights buyout in the Portuguese language?” And so on…

    Some people believe that a “buyout” applies to an entire shoot, to every captured image, including outtakes. Others think it applies to a single image, to just the one that will be published. Some people believe that buyouts last in perpetuity, while others believe it lasts for only a limited time. Still others think it means the absolute transfer of all publication rights, including copyright. But generally speaking, publishers think that a buyout means they get to publish your pictures as often as they wish, anywhere they wish, any way they wish, and for as long as they wish for one paltry fee. But after a little bit of back-and-forth, it can be determined that needs are not so comprehensive after all. Offer some alternative suggestions for limited rights purchases. Explain that, if they want to buy an entire steer, it costs more than the price of a T-bone steak. Do they need to feed an army or just put dinner for two on the table?

    Sometimes it IS reasonable to sell so-called “unlimited rights” for use in “all media.” But that doesn't mean you have to relinquish your ownership and copyright, too. Just make sure your price reflects that kind of value to the buyer.

    This discussion doesn’t take into account how MUCH to bill. Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words. But isn’t it also worth more than just the time it took to shoot one? It only takes 1/125th of a second or so to snap a photo. Anyone can do it. That’s another discussion.

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Nov 1, 2014
    Bill Bachman. . .

    Remember, it's the buyer who places a value on your IP, not the creator. :) That's the premise behind per-use rights management.

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Nov 1, 2014
    Mr. Nilson re: Paul Melcher's blog post . . .

    Bill Bachman is right to put his foot down and mash your potatoes. Paul Melcher is a digital demagogue. The last time I corresponded with him I had to admonish him not to engage in a battle of wits because he was only half-prepared.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Nov 3, 2014
    Tom..... I recommend that photographers NEVER even use the words "buy ouT". I never do. If someone wants lots of usage, I will sell them UNLIMITED usage ---- for a lot more money. That gives them all the usage they could ever need, but has no way at all for them to think they OWN my image(s). I own them still, I own the copyright, I can sell tom others (unless client also wants EXCLUSIVE rights --- which means a lot more money). But for people to understand, just use the words "unlimited usage" for more money they will do fine.

    By the way, Tom, two "n"s at the end of my name!

  • Jaak Nilson Posted Nov 3, 2014
    Bill Bachmann, I have no blog, It is a blog of Paul Melcher.

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