Long Term Usage Licenses: A Fairer System

Posted on 12/12/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

It has been pointed out that publishers need to license rights for long terms (25 years and more) because it is so difficult for them to track down image owners in order to license reuses years after the initial license. This is particularly true as a result of agency consolidations and agencies going out of business. In addition photographers sometimes leave the agency that originally licensed the image and can be very difficult to track down since there is no central database listing photographers contact information.

I recognize the problem, but there is a simple solution that would be easier for the book publishers to administer and much fairer for image creators.

Instead of licensing for 25 years, creators should license for two years for use in a specific product with a stipulation in the agreement that the publisher may continue to uses the image beyond the two year term until the creator (or his agent) submits a new invoice for the same amount for an additional two year term.

This transfers the responsibility from the publisher to the creator to initiate a request for additional payment for an extended license. The creator must keep track of when to submit the new invoice. If the creator is sloppy with his paperwork the publisher may continue to use the image without violating copyright. If the creator waits until three years from the date of the first invoice to send the second, then the publisher gets a free year of use and the new terms starts for two years from the date of the 2nd invoice. There would need to be a stipulation that the creator could not come back after a long period of making no contact (say 10 years) and demand payment for the period when the first license expired and the current date. If the creator doesn’t contact in a timely manner then he loses past opportunity, but still has the right to license for future opportunity if the image is still being used.

When the publisher receives the new invoice the only action necessary is to check its list of active titles to determine if the book was still available for sale. (Or are digital copies still available for licensing on the Internet?) If the title is available for licensing the publisher needs to pay the invoice. If the title is no longer being sold all the publisher would have to do is send a note to whoever submitted the invoice saying, “This title is no longer available to purchase.”

The publisher’s arguments against managing reuses are simply a convenient excuse. The real reason is not the difficulty in administering the process, but that it in the long run it would cost the publishers more money for the images they use and reduce profits. They are simply unwilling to fairly compensate content creators.

Agency Responsibility

For this system to work agencies should also be required to supply certain information to the photographers they represent when the agency is acquired by another company and that company decided to no longer represent the photographer, or the agency goes out of business, or the photographer terminate his relationship with the agency. The photographer should be supplied with the names and contact information of any company that has licensed the photographer’s image under such an agreement and the date when the license is due to expire. This information should normally be me maintained within the agency in a simple database of Excel file and should be easy to send to the photographer without excessive burden on the agency.

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 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.  


  • Charles Cecil Posted Dec 24, 2011
    This proposal is eminently sensible where direct sales between a photographer and a publisher are concerned. It deserves to be promoted by organizations such as ASMP. However, most of my sales are through Alamy or a couple of other large agencies. They won't tell me who the publishers are who license the images. Are these agencies themselves willing to assume to job of billing publishers for follow-up usage? Though it would be in their interest to do so, I suspect such a new task would be used to justify reducing the photographers' share of the licensing fees obtained. I wonder how easy or difficult it would be to convince major stock agencies that this new system would be in their own best interests? Chuck Cecil

  • Neil Petrie Posted Jan 10, 2012
    Jim, this looks like an excellent solution to so many of the problems associated with any of the long term licensing models. Yes, it is onerous on the agency and the creator, but I think it is about time we (agency/creator) take responsibility for some of these issues.

    Just as trademark and patent creators have to take responsibility for managing their rights themselves, I believe its time we do the same.


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