Exclusive Licenses Of Rights Managed Images

Posted on 10/14/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One of the arguments for licensing images as Rights Managed is that only then can they be licensed for Exclusive uses because all the uses of the images are controlled and limited. With Royalty Free customers can continue to use the images they acquire in unspecified ways long after initially licensed with very few limitations.

Exclusive uses are generally licensed for very high dollars, and every RM photographer hopes that he/she will be the beneficiary of such sales.

However, the percentage of RM licenses for any type of exclusive use are miniscule, Recently, I talked to an investment analysis who was under the impression that every RM license was for exclusive use. That is simply not the case.

In a very few cases RM images are licensed for unlimited exclusive use for several years. The fees for such a use can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but most photographers who license their images as RM never see one such sale in a career. More common is exclusive rights to use an image for a shorter period of time in a particular industry, or limiting certain other direct competitors from use of the same image for a specific time period. The costs for such an exclusive is usually in the multi-thousands of dollars. But, in this case, the same image may be licensed to someone else, the same day, or any time thereafter, for a different non-competitive use.

Based on my analysis of sales reports of a number of major contributors to Getty Images’ RM collections it seems that less than 3% of their RM licenses are for fees of more than $1,000.

In a significant percentage of the cases where customer pay a few thousand dollars for use of an image, the fee is often based on extensive use of the image in multiple ways, rather than granting any type of exclusive rights. Even then, in many cases, most notably in the education field, unlimited uses of an image that previously would have generated high dollars is now being given away for figures much lower than $1,000.

Taking all that into account I believe that less than 1% of all the images -- by all sellers of RM images in the world -- are licensed for exclusive rights annually. Thus, at a maximum, maybe 15,000 images are licensed for exclusive use annually.

Licensing RF For Exclusive Use

The fact that an image is available as Royalty Free doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t ever be licensed for exclusive use, or for a high dollar figure.

Back in 2007 Dreamstime reported that they had licensed an image of a flower for use by a chocolate manufacturer for a logo for $5,100. At the same time they also reported a  $4,500 sale for another image. Recently, they reported a new record (more than $5,100) for the most any customer had ever paid them for use of a single image. It is believed that they regularly license uses for relatively high dollar figures.

In some cases microstock customers who feel they need exclusive rights will search for images that have never been licensed. If they find something they want, it is not much trouble for the microstock seller to pull that image out of future distribution. (The seller will also have to insure that if the photographer has the same image on other sites it is pulled off of those sites as well.)

Microstock sites do place limits on the use of images on products that can be sold “including, … postcards, mugs, t-shirts, posters, giclee prints, wallpaper, artwork and other items.” They also do not allow trademark or logo use with a standard license. In addition customers are not allowed to place images in a Digital Asset Management system for sharing with multiple other users unless they pay an additional fee. When the customer wants to use the image for any of these purposes that opens the door for negotiations.

Shutterstock licenses images to subscription customers for about $1.25 each, but the same images may be licensed for certain uses at much higher figures through its “Enterprise” division. I have been told that Enterprise fees are sometimes as high as $500. That’s not in the multi-thousand dollar range, but it is a lot more than $1.25.

I recently talked to a Shutterstock contributor who had 18 of his images used on one customer’s project for a fee of about $360 each. A unique sale, but a nice payday.

What To Do?

There may be other good reasons for licensing images as RM, but if sales of some images are becoming almost non-existent it may be time to consider other options.

If you are betting on that block buster return from one of your great images it may be time to take a little money and go to Las Vegas. The odds are much better.

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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 14, 2014
    I've been shooting in Europe for 6 weeks and I missed hearing from "Old Negative Jim".

    Jim we get about 10-12 Exclusive or big sales per year from only RM. I would never sell any other way. I have multiple agencies and do quite well. I never think of how bad the business is until I read your reports! Golly, there are success stories out there, Jim, but you dwell on how BAD it is.


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