Should you choose to purchase a usage license to any of your image theses are important things you NEED to know.
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Who owns the photo?
Photos and images are intellectual property. As such, photo ownership starts and almost always stays with the photographer.
“Hiring” a photographer doesn’t change the ownership.
So, what if you hire a photographer? Won’t this mean the photos belong to you?
Actually, no. Even when hiring a photographer for a dedicated photo shoot, the employment is typically a contractor relationship. Therefore the photographer will still be the owner of the resulting photos. The photographer may grant you an unlimited license for these photos, but legal ownership stays with the photographer.
Only if a staffer takes photos on the job, using your equipment, and on paid company time, will you, the employer, be considered the owner of the photos.
Your photo license is for you (not your contractors or the media).
So, as we mentioned earlier, professional photographers never sell a photo. Rather, they grant you permission (license) to use it. When licensing a photo, you do not own it.
You also do not have the right to give the photo to a third party to use. This is a very common misunderstanding. Say you’re an architect, and you paid a photographer to shoot your latest custom home, and you received a very open license to use those photos. A magazine calls and asks if they can use your photos in a story they’re running about you. The answer is a big NO. While you could use those photos in a print ad in said magazine, the magazine becomes the user of the photo when they are using it for their own editorial. So they should be negotiating their own license with the photographer. In the same example, if the builder who constructed your beautiful custom home asks for copies of those photos for his portfolio, the answer is also NO. The photo license is for you and you only.
How you use the photo often affects the price.
By purchasing a license, you are paying to use a photo in a very specific way. The photo’s permissions detail exactly how you can (and can’t) use the photo. Some permissions are very restrictive and are tied to a particular medium (i.e.: one regional magazine ad, one direct mail piece, one video, one television commercial, or a billboard at a single address), a particular time frame, or based on a number of views. Some permissions are for editorial use only (not advertisements for printed marquees). Or, permission may be more general (giving you free rein to use the photo on your website and in any emails you send).
The photo isn’t exclusively yours to use (unless you pay extra).
In most cases, when buying an image from a stock agency, you will be granted non-exclusive rights for that photo. This means that this photo may be legally found on many other sites, billboard, direct mail pieces, or newspaper ads. Some agencies will offer to sell you exclusive rights, or semi-exclusive rights (often based on a geographic region). You definitely pay more for this type of exclusivity.