Negotiating "Life of Edition" Rights

Posted on 4/27/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Some textbook publishers have begun to ask photographers to invoice them for the right to use images for the “life of the edition” of a book. The following is the language from one such request.
    "Please bill us for publication rights for the life of the edition. … we would like by this permission request to sell additional units through the life of the edition...."
Photographers should be very careful about including “life of the edition” language in their invoices unless they have been able to negotiate a significant usage fee for the rights. I would suggest that your "life of the edition" price be at least 10 times what you would normally charge for a 40,000 print run. Explain that if the publisher is unwilling to put some cap on the number of copies that will printed or sold then you must assume a print run of one million copies or more. For a product that will generate 25 times more revenue than if only 40,000 copies were sold 10 times multiple for usage seems very reasonable.  

Explain that if the publisher wants to put some cap on the number of books that will be sold you may be able to give them a better price. Today it is common for publishers to ask for rights to print a million copies of a book over a period of 10 years. If they are asking for “Life of the Edition” they must be hoping they will sell more than 1 million copies.

In some cases they might say, “We don’t expect to sell anywhere near a million copies, but it is too costly for us to track sales, expiration dates of licenses and then re-negotiate.”

With today’s computer databases it should be simple matter to set up a programs that keeps track of sales of a particular product along with the expiration dates of the image licenses contained in that product. A simple email notification could alert a staff member that it is time to re-license use of the images.

If it is a matter of not wanting to have to go through the process of negotiating a new license, a price for license renewals could be stipulated up-front in the original license.

If the publisher’s argument is, “We can’t afford to pay what you’re asking because we have no idea how many copies we’ll really sell, but we need to be sure we don’t accidentally infringe your copyright,” try this strategy.

Offer them a 2 year license for a much lower fee than you would charge for the “life of the edition.” Explain that at the end of the two years you will send them an invoice for an additional 2 year license. Stipulate the amount for 2 year renewal fees in the original license. Agree that if you fail to send the invoice notification the publisher may continue to use the image without being in violation of your copyright until some future time when you submit a new invoice for a new license. Any new license can only be for two years future use, and can not be retroactive for a period when the photographer failed to submit a request for a re-use license. This put the onus on the photographer, not the publisher, to track use and submit invoices in a timely manner.

Language in the initial license should include something like the following:
    Photographer will notify (client) 30 days prior to the date the license is due to expire by sending an invoice for an additional 2 years of reuse. If client is no longer using the image, client may ignore the invoice. If client doesn’t want to continue to use the image and removes the image from all databases and discontinues selling all products containing it, client may ignore the invoice. If client wants to continue using the image for an additional 2 years client will need to pay the renewal fee listed in the invoice. In the event that client receives no renewal notification client may continue to use the image free or charge until photographer sends a renewal notification.
In this case the publisher has no risk of violating copyright and gets the initial use of the image for a much lower price than would be charged for “life of the edition” rights. If it turns out that the title is not a popular success and it is dropped after a period of years the publisher saves a lot of money.

By accepting the burden of renewal notification the photographer makes it easy for the publisher to remain in compliance, but also retains much more control of the licensing of his or her images.

Copyright © 2011 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:  


  • Charles Cecil Posted Apr 30, 2011
    This strategy makes good sense if the photographer is lucky enough to deal directly with the publisher. In my case, many of my images are used in textbooks, but they are licensed through Alamy, or occasionally a second stock agency that handles my material. In the last couple of years Alamy has often offered the client 15 years usage for print runs of either 3 million or "unlimited." But needless to say, the prices Alamy asks when they give those unlimited 15-year rights are nowhere near ten times what a two-year license or a 40,000 print-run would be.

    I think it's far more important to control the size of the print edition or the number of online views than the number of years. Most textbooks don't have a life of more than 5 years before a new edition is issued, so these requests for 10 or 15 years seem more theoretical than real. (I've had several cases where "life of edition" has only been about three years.) A new edition will lead to a request to re-use an image long before 10 years or a million copies of a work are reached.

    In the last year I've also noticed an increase in the number of images licensed for use as a "two-page spread." Sometimes these are even vertical images, very unsuitable to use in a two-page format. I'm wondering if this is a way of giving the publisher carte-blanche to use the image in any size they could possibly want, but I can't figure out why they would request and pay for a size larger than they actually need. Any thoughts?

    I'd prefer to deal directly with the publisher. Unfortunately many of them go to the mega-agencies rather than spend time searching the smaller collections of individual photographers.

    Chuck Cecil/Cecil Images

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