One of the greatest benefits that microstock agencies offer to you as a contributor is in providing and managing the legal protection for your media. If you’re new to the stock industry, the entire concept of licensing may seem pretty confusing. But if you’re considering selling your photos, videos, illustrations, audio, or other artistic media as microstock, then it’s important to understand the common stock licensing types and how they work.
In this article I’ve explained in general terms, the two most common stock media licensing types – “Royalty Free” and “Rights Managed”. Royalty Free is the most common license type for microstock, and Rights Managed is more common for higher fee stock media. These license agreements are contractual agreements between the buyer and the microstock agency.
Specific rules and restrictions vary significantly from one agency to the next, so it’s important to review these carefully before signing up as a contributor on any site. (Note: I’m using the terms “agency” and “site” interchangeably). You want to fully understand what rights you’re retaining and what you’re giving up. You are after all, the owner of your artwork, and you want to protect that ownership.
What Is a License?
Using artistic media (i.e.: photo, video, illustration,audio, etc) without express permission, such as cutting and pasting an image from a website, is illegal. In order to use media legally and have protection from copyright infringement, buyers purchase a use license. They aren’t actually buying the media itself. They are buying a license that gives them permission to use the media within pre-defined guidelines, and at a set price.
Royalty Free License
Royalty Free, or RF, the most common license type for microstock, is a straightforward license that allows a buyer to pay a one-time fee for legal permission to use the media without ongoing royalty payments to the creator. This is not exclusive permission. Many buyers can purchase the rights to use this same Royalty Free media at the same time. This allows a much higher volume of sales for a single item than Rights Managed.
A Royalty Free license provides the buyer with the following benefits:
- Use of the media multiple times for multiple projects, as defined by the specific licensing agreement, without paying additional royalties for each use
- Use of the media without first disclosing type, location, or time of use
- Inclusion of the media into products for resale, within specified publication/distribution size limitations – for example, up to 50,000 copies (Note – several microstock agencies offer an ‘extended license’ option on Royalty Free media. The extended license ‘extends’ or increases these size limitations for an additional fee.)
Rights Managed License
Rights Managed, or RM is a much more restricted type of licensing than Royalty Free. The buyer has to specify in advance how the material will be used, including such details as time frame, geography, and publication volume. Price is negotiated based on these specifications. Additional fees need to be paid for each separate use of the image. Rights Managed license fees are significantly higher than Royalty Free because the agency is actively managing and limiting who has the rights to use the media.
A Rights Managed license provides the buyer with the following benefits:
- Exclusive rights to use the media within defined specifications throughout the license duration, meaning no one else can license the media at the same time. This is often a critical need for buyers with national or higher visibility campaigns that they don’t want diluted by the same media being used by others.
- Larger publication/distribution sizes compared to royalty free
It’s important to note that the copyright does not pass on to the purchaser with either license. The copyright remains with you, the creator.
Don’t be tempted to just ignore ‘the legal stuff’. Before applying to a microstock site, research the details of their unique contract and licensing terms. Understand what protection they are providing you. And understand what rights you, the contributor, are turning over to the agency, and what rights you are turning over to buyers.
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