2017 was the first full year that I blogged full-time. I went to conferences, workshops, and classes to soak up as much info as I could about the industry. I don’t have a manager or an agent (and after a lot of thought, I don’t wish to have one right now!), so it’s up to me to review every single contract and negotiate terms for every single project that I’m working on.
One pesky little clause kept popping up in so many contracts? Licensing and ownership. Tl;dr — signing over the rights to your photos can be a bad thing, and as a blogger, you should avoid it as much as possible. If you have a little more time to learn, here’s what photo licensing is, why it can be a bad thing, and what you can do if you see it in your agreements.
What is Content Licensing?
Short story? If a company owns a license to your content, they’re able to use the content you created…without crediting you.
In-depth? A company can acquire different types of licenses for various periods of time. If it’s a full license, that means they can use your work on social, email marketing campaigns, print — heck, they could put your face on a billboard if they wanted to (and legally do not have to credit you for your work). Some companies ask for a digital-only license which spans social media/email/website marketing only.
If a license is perpetual, it means it’s forever. Sometimes a company will ask for a license for a month, a year, two years, etc.
Content Licensing – Why A License Can Be A Bad Thing
First things first: why is handing over a license to your work a bad thing? There’s a huge pay difference between a company wanting to advertise on your website vs. a brand wanting to own your content — and trust me, for a company to own your work, they’re likely going to be paying at least 3-4 times more for ownership rights than what your sponsored rate is.
My boyfriend is a professional photographer who’s worked with restaurants across the U.S. When preparing a quote for them, he asks about licensing. Just because he’s shooting photos for them doesn’t mean the brand owns those images — as a content creator, you own your work. If a brand wants to purchase those ownership rights from a creative professional, they’re usually paying four to five figures for those rights.
Now think about your sponsored post rate. Typically when you create your sponsored post rate, you base it on the scope of work for the campaign and how large of a reach you have. You’re not factoring in ownership rights to your work. If a brand wants to own the rights to your work in addition to advertising on your platforms, they should pay an additional fee for this. If they refuse, you should ask for the clause to be removed from your agreement.
How Do I Know if a Brand Wants to License My Content?
A lot of companies don’t mention the whole “rights to your work” thing when you’re negotiating a deal: they usually slip it in a contract. If you’re signing a contract, look out for clauses that look something like this:
+ Company shall have the right to use in any way, including without limitation, reproduce, distribute, make derivative works of, publicly display and perform the Content, together with or without Influencer’s name, or Influencer’s image, voice, biography, quotes, statements, likeness, on-camera performance (collectively, “Likeness) on any print or online medium, including without limitation, the Websites, Internet, social media channels, email newsletter and press materials. Company shall have the right to use the Content without reference to any of Influencer’s Likeness in perpetuity without any royalties or additional payment due.
+ Company shall own all right, title and interest in and to the Services and any related materials (collectively, the “Material”) in perpetuity from the inception of their creation, including the worldwide copyrights thereto and all renewals thereto, free from any claims whatsoever by any person, including any claims by you or any person(s) deriving rights from you.
There are other ways brands word this, but if you see the keywords “own rights” or “perpetual license,” they’re most likely putting in the contract that they own the rights to your work. I know most of us are not lawyers. It’s not easy to read contracts that brands send over, and it takes a good deal of time out of our day to read through a lengthy contract. I send out my own contract as much as possible, but sometimes when you’re working with a major brand, they’re going to require you to sign their contract. If you have or know a lawyer, it’s worth it for them to take a quick glance at every contract you sign to make sure it doesn’t do more harm than good.
Content Licensing – Product Only Collabs + Content Ownership
Another thing that’s hit my inbox lately? I’ve had a few offers that are for product only, yet the brand wanted ownership of photos. Nope.
I was offered a comped stay at a hotel, but when we were negotiating the deal, they asked: “Of the images you capture that are not lifestyle of the hotel, do you grant full access and rights to use the images after you complete your post on the blog and social media channels?”
NOPE. Nope nope. If you’re not getting paid, do not hand over full access and rights to your images. To give you perspective, photographers are paid thousands for this kind of work, and you’re only getting a one-night hotel stay or a dress in exchange for producing marketing materials for them that they can blast in their email, websites, stores, print ads, etc. Not worth it!
Content Licensing – Beware of Sneaky Social Media Asks
So: your dream brand comments on your photo saying that they love your pic. Congrats! They might leave you a comment looking something like this:
Trust me; I love LOFT. I love a regram as much as you do. But…you’re giving someone rights and ownership of your photo for free. Usually, if a brand leaves one of these comments, I’ll reply back and say that I’m ok with a repost on social media with credit. Nine times out of 10, it works, and I’ll still get a feature without handing over the rights to my photo.
Content Licensing – How to Negotiate With Brands
If you see this clause in your contract, I’ll typically reply back with this:
“My photographer does not let me hand over rights to any of my work. I am happy to grant permission for [BRAND NAME] to repost my work on social media only as long as I am tagged/credited in the caption. If you are interested in ownership rights to the images, my photographer would need to be paid a licensing fee.”
Sometimes, the brand will go ahead and remove the clause from the contract. Other times, the brand might insist on leaving it in or shortening the licensing period. I’ll negotiate a higher rate if they request it, but I have had to walk away from a few deals if the brand doesn’t budge on the clause or the budget.
Have any questions on content licensing? Let me know in the comments!
Photos by Tom McGovern