Improving The RF Option

Posted on 11/5/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

There is a segment of the photographic community that insists on arguing that in order to get more reasonable prices for image use we must eliminate RF. Forget it; it’s impossible; it won’t happen. But there are other options.

To begin, we must recognize that the marketplace has changed. It is moving rapidly from print to digital. Virtually every use today is delivered in both a print and digital format. Image users have a variety of constantly changing options in the way they can deliver their message. They need flexibility and the ability to change directions quickly. RF gives them that flexibility.

Media buyers have been conditioned to seek only RF. Some have been burned when they purchased RM and actual use eventually got beyond their awareness or control. Most have established internal policies that prevent them from using RM unless (1) they are absolutely certain the use will be very limited, or (2) the RM license is written so broadly that it effectively gives them RF rights.

The RF licensing strategy appears to offer very broad rights, but there are limits. Over the years since RF was first offered in the early 1990s more and more limits have been placed on how an image can be used for the Basic Fee.

Here are some of the limitations. The user can’t:
    1 - Print more than 250,000 copies (Shutterstock) of any printed product including books, magazines, emails, advertising posters, packaging magazines, newspapers, books (including print-on-demand books), e-books, advertising collateral, letterhead, business cards, product labels, CD and DVD cover art, and opt-in e-mail marketing, (In the case of iStock and some other micro sites the limit is 500,000 copies).

    2 – Display to more than 250,000 TV, online video or film viewers
    3 – Deliver copies of software or apps to more than 250,000 users
    4 - Use on products such as postcards, calendars, posters, stationary items, paper products, mugs, giclee prints, wallpaper, artwork and other items stationary items, paper products, calendars, apparel items, (Can’t be offered on sites like or that offer these services.)
    5 - Create printed reproductions of any Image as wallpaper or wall art, on billboards, or on canvas, paper, plastic or any other medium,
    6 – Use in logos, trademark, design-mark, trade name, business name, service mark or similar applications of images

    7 – Use in electronic or digital template applications intended for resale
    8 - Stockpile images (in the case of subscriptions): If you fail to use an Image within twelve (12) months from the date of your first download of that Image, you lose all rights to use that Image.
    9 - Install and use the Content in more than one location at a time or post a copy of the Content on a network server or web server for use by other users
    10 – Use the image for more than one customer without re-licensing.
For the first four the user can normally extend the use limitation to Unlimited by  purchasing an Enhanced or Extended license. This normally adds $100 to $150 to the base price.

If the customer wants to make use of an image in one of the other ways, then some type of negotiation ensues. The prices for these other uses (for microstock images) can be in the several hundred and even thousands of dollars. Such other uses may be rare in terms of total numbers, but because of the much higher prices points they can represent a significant amount of total revenue generated. And they are probably not any more rare than high priced RM sales.

How RM and RF Differ

The big difference between the two models is that RF starts off with a very simple to understand, low price for the vast majority of uses. When a rare, more complex or unusual use comes into play negotiations ensue and the customer is charged a higher price. In cases where a variety of uses might be possible, or anticipated, it is fairly easy for the customer to protect herself by paying a slightly higher Extended License fee for the particular image.

With RM, the customer is expected to know every possible future use of the image before licensing. Every customer, even the smallest user, is also expected to jump through a lot of hoops to determine the fee for a particular use.

Changes I Would Like To See

1 – I would like to see Press Releases added to the above list of not allowed uses. If an image, even in a modified form, is to be distributed as part of a press release that any recipient of the release is free to publish then a higher fee should be paid. At the very least an Extended License should be required, but given the potential for much wider distribution of an image than if it were used in a single publication such uses should be separately negotiated. See this story for an illustration of the problem.?

2 – Shutterstock limits the number of users of any image to one for either a Standard or an Enhanced license. The problem is that the use of the term user is not clear. Is the user the end using customer or the ad agency or design firm that chooses and uses the image in a project for the customer? Does the agency have the right to use the image in many different projects or campaign for a single customer for just one fee? If the agency has several different art directors working on a campaign for one particular customer, does the restriction mean that the agency needs a site license for multiple art directors to work on the same campaign? Does a single art director (user) within an agency have the right to use the image on multiple projects for multiple customers as long as the art director is the only one involved in the design work?

I would like for it to be made clear that the limitation is for one project or one campaign for a specific company. If the image is used for a new project, or a new company then an additional fee needs to be paid.

3Educational Uses Online. It seems to me that the microstock segment of the business has an opportunity to adjust their pricing for educational use to be more reflective of the future of online educational publishing. Rather that circulation limits, create a special subscription product that needs to be renewed annually to keep the image license in force. Long range this could generate more revenue than an Extended License. See here.

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:  


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