Collecting Societies and Photocopy Licensing

Posted on 10/15/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

For more than 30 years “Collecting Societies” in many countries have had systems to compensate photographers when their images in books and periodicals are photocopied. U.S. photographers are not so fortunate.

The United Kingdom, Scandinavia, France, Australia and many other countries have active collecting societies. Their purpose is to facilitate the collection of fees for secondary uses of artwork in cases where it is impractical to license such uses individually. For example, it is impractical to expect a student who wants to photocopy pages from a book found in a school library to seek out the creator and negotiate a license. However, the creator is entitled to a royalty. Rather than requiring the student to contact the creator for each use the library pays an annual license fee to a national collecting society. The society then apportions the monies as equitably as possible to individual creators.

Such fees are collected from schools, colleges, universities, corporations, law firms, and other commercial users. For the most part these fees are for “non-title specific” uses (no record is kept of exactly which creative work(s) are being copied). The fees are usually based on estimated volumes of photocopying.

The experience of The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) in the United Kingdom is instructive. According to Kevin Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of the CLA, “a founding principle of the organization was that half of our income should go to publishers and half to creators. The precise percentage varies a bit depending on the type of work, but up to today that general principle still holds reasonably true.”

Compare this with the U.S. Copyright Collection Agency (CCC) which was set up in 1978 by publishers, for the benefit of publishers. Since its founding the agency has done very little to recognize, or share revenue with, creators.

U.S publishers claim that the item being copied is their product and they have all rights to everything in their product (even though that is not the way the licenses to use creative work are written). In the UK (and most other developed countries in the world) licensing is for a specific product and the sale of that product as is. When parts of the product are used in a new way creators and publisher should share equally in the additional revenue generated by such new uses.

In the UK the CLA sells the licenses and then distributes the money collected to three organizations – DACS (Design and Artists Copyright Society) for further distribution to artists, to another organization for authors and a third for publishers. DACS runs what they call a ‘Payback’ scheme to distribute royalties to individual visual creators.

CLA runs sample surveys to determine which books and journals are being copied and how frequently. As just one example of such a survey, each year they send survey managers to 10 UK universities for one month to supervise and track what is happening at the copiers in these institutions. Then they develop a database for estimating use in all universities. From this type of data the CLA is able to develop a statistically relevant, but not 100% accurate, picture of how the revenue should be shared. This data is then shared with the organizations that distribute the royalties. It is important to recognize that while this data gives an indication of how frequently the work of a particular publisher, and maybe a particular title, may be photocopied, it does not get to the granular level of which pages are being photocopied.

In 2011 the CLA collected over $100 million. In order to sell the licenses, do the surveys and produce the data CLA retained 11% to cover its operating overhead. Through its surveying and negotiations with groups that represent the various parties CLA has determined that about 8% of the remainder (roughly $7 million) should go to image creators. (Note that the CCC retains about 28% of the monies collected to cover its operating expenses.)

That 8% is sent to DACS. The remainder is split roughly equally between the organizations that distribute to authors and publishers. Visual creators should also keep in mind that much of the work that is being photocopied is textual material.

DACS operating costs to manage the distribution to individual creators are about 20% of monies they receive leaving about $5.6 million to be distributed to creators. DACS also does some direct licensing which adds to this number so it is believed that DACS distributes about $8 million a year.

The average artist’s share distributed by DACS in 2011 was about $450 (£285) which would mean that almost 18,000 creators received some monies (assuming the gross paid out was nearly $8 million). Every artist whose application qualified received at least $40 (£25). One artist received almost $9,000 (£5,500).

How Does DACS Decide Who Gets Paid?

Payments are made to creators once a year through DACS’s “Payback” scheme. To determine who will share in the revenue DACS requires that each creator annually submit an application by the end of October. Claimants whose applications are approved will receive a royalty payback in December. Claimants must be UK residents and provide the following information:
  • Name and contact details
  • Names of publications where their work was featured
  • ISBN, ISSN or barcode numbers for any publications where the work has been featured
  • Title and channel of any television programs where their work was featured
  • Bank details so DACS can transfer the money owed
If the claimant has work in more than three publications he/she is only required to supply the ISBN numbers and specifics for 3 publications. Then the claimant indicates the total number of publications where his/her work has appeared. It is not clear how stock photographers that license rights to their work through agencies and distributors are able to comply with this requirement since most stock agencies will not provide the name of the publication where an image has been used.

Royalties are apportioned to creators based on the best estimates that can be reasonably made of the proportional share of work the creator had available for copying. Obviously, this cannot be perfectly fair because at any given time certain creators work may be very popular and the work of others may not be photocopied at all. But it has been the best system that could be devised given that there is no practical way to force those who make photocopies to report exactly which work they are copying. (It will be important to keep this distinction in mind as we move to the next generation of the use of copyrighted work -- the web.)

Can U.S. Photographers Collect For Work Published In The UK?

Collecting societies have bilateral agreements with societies in other countries so their clients can freely copy works published anywhere in the world. The societies mutually exchange rights to license the work they represent and the data they collect on their domestic uses. Thus, the CLA knows which works are being copied in France or Austraila. When they get money they know how it should be distributed.

Fitzgerald says that in the UK about 10% of the money the CLA collects is paid out to other countries.  Because people in these other countries tend to make a lot of use of English publications about 15% of the revenue the CLA receives is returned to them from other countries. The CCC in the U.S. is one of the collecting societies they receive money from and to whom they distribute money.

This creates an interesting situation for image creators. If a UK photographer has an image in a book distributed in the U.S. a small portion of the money the photographer receives annually will be for U.S. photocopying. But, the U.S. photographer who has an image in a book that is distributed in the UK (or any other country for that matter) will not be able to benefit directly from any of the money paid the CCC. In some cases trade associations like ASMP receive payments from foreign countries through the CCC. In these cases there is a designation that the monies must be used for education or advocacy, but not paid out to individual photographers. Individual U.S. photographers are unable to directly benefit from the international photocopying of their work.

Moving To The Web

It is interesting that collecting societies are able to collect such huge amounts of money for uses that often go unnoticed. In 2011 CCC collected $238,590 million and paid out $171,064 million (virtually all to publishers). CLA in the UK took in $100 million. Collecting societies in France, Scandinavia, Australia and many other countries took in more money.

Now we are moving away from print usages and more and more to web usage. In the web environment it is much easier to track actual image usage. In June 2011 we reported on how Encyclopaedia Britannica and UIG have worked together to create EBImageQuest, a service that makes images available to school systems. With this product UIG is able to track the exact number of times each image is used and compensate the creator based on actual usage.

PicScout’s ImageIRC Post-Usage-Billing Service is able to track actual usage by installing an API on a web platform. Any image uploaded to the platform is “fingerprinted” on the fly and the fingerprint is compared with ones in a master database. Thus, when each image is uploaded it can be immediately tracked and credited specifically to the creator.

It is too early to tell what kind of revenue either of these services will generate, but in the near future there will be the possibility of directly compensating image creators for the actual use of their work on the web. Creators need to be examining these options carefully, choosing which to support and which to avoid. Creators also need to carefully weigh the compensation strategy of each new system.

Copyright © 2012 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:  


  • Alan Smith Posted Oct 22, 2012
    Jim's article has a very positive spin on Collecting Societies but there is a big threat that they are moving into areas that conflict with existing licensing of photographers and agencies . The Extended Collective Licensing ECL that is on the table for the UK is a prime example. Collecting Societies are currently unregulated and the payments they remit to rights holders are very opaque. They (as you you can see by the figures) are very cash rich and because of payback schemes claim to represent 90% of the industry. Yes payback is welcome but this is very much in an area that is almost impossible to claim for. This photocopying is possibly going to be put into a "fair use" style law which means that Collecting Societies will be looking at alternative routes to maintaining their collections.

  • Leif Skoogfors Posted Oct 27, 2013
    It is insane that US collecting societies can reap large sums of money, based upon creators' work and NOT distribute it to photographers. ASCAP does it for musicians.

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