Copyright and Licensing your images

For a lot of new photographers just starting out, seeing our work published online or in print is an awesome experience. I’d say that 90 per cent of my work remains hidden on my hard drive and is only seen by me when I’m going through my Lightroom Catalogue, so of course I like to see it out there in the big wide world.

In the beginning, getting published is so important for editorial photographers and it helps when building a portfolio and a name for yourself. Giving away an image for free publicity seems like a no-brainer, and that seductive phrase that reads, “You’ll get a byline,” is enough to melt any would-be pro. But at what point do you stop handing them over for nothing?

Bylines have done nothing for me in regards to publicity or finding work. That’s not to say that editors don’t notice the names or even look them up on the internet, but it’s important to remember when you hear for the Xth time that you’ll get a written credit somewhere. Most of my work comes through word of mouth or good old fashioned marketing.

So far this year I’ve discovered two of my images being used without my permission and therefore without the relevant licences being obtained. On one occasion, the watermark had even been removed from the corner, which indicates that the user knew he was doing something he shouldn’t be. In both situations, the webmasters apologised and immediately offered to include a credit but couldn’t afford the licence. Naturally this left me in an awkward position whereby I didn’t want to see the pictures removed, but wanted to still stand my ground and argue that pictures just can’t be stolen willy-nilly.

So what’s the right thing to do? In my opinion (and many other professional photographers out there), the industry is being ruined by other photographers offering free or almost free services. And although I understand the clients’ desire to keep costs low, it only leads to a destabilisation of the industry. Equipment, software and training prices are certainly not going down, and these are all things that have to be taken in to account when we arrive at our price or quote. Plus there’s the Cost of Doing Business. CODB includes office rent, mobile and internet bills, kit servicing and replacement, insurance, travel expenses and so much more. These are the first things that have to be included in the hourly rate before any money has even been made by the photographer.

If you’re a photographer and regularly upload to sites like Flickr and Facebook, I strongly recommend watermarking anything you share and greatly reducing the file size. You can also attempt to find online copies of your work by using the Google Images function. By uploading an image or pasting in the URL, you can easily find websites that might be using it.

A great site for navigating the minefield of pricing can be found via Jonathan Bowcott’s site. It’s easy to use and simple to understand. If you’re looking for something a little more in depth, check out Wonderful Machine’s Blog post about Real World Pricing and Negotiating.

As a photographer, you owe it to yourself and the industry to set your prices realistically and to not bow down to pressure to give stuff away. It’s a touchy subject on so many levels, but one worth discussing all the same.

As always, let me know your thoughts. Have you been affected by Copyright and Licensing issues in the past? Drop me a line at