Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

A Dirty Word, Part 2

Check out Part 1 of A Dirty Word here.

Just so everyone is on the same page, I would like to define my perception of the difference between Rights Managed and Royalty Free stock photography. I am not a lawyer, so my definitions reflect my understanding and their ‘everyday’ usage.

In Rights Managed stock photography, the agency that handles one's images arranges a specific usage contract when an image is sold. That contract or agreement is very specific and generally states what the image will be used for, how many copies will be made, how many times it will be used, and for how long the buyer has exclusive rights to it. Generally speaking, major changes to the image are not made unless negotiated. Of course, the specifics, as well as how many of these types of issues are covered, depends on the intended usage.

In Royalty Free stock photography, an image that is purchased can be used for most anything, with only some restrictions, BUT there is no exclusivity. Thus, while a rights manages sale will typically impose a moratorium on any other sales of the image for a specified time period (typically 6 or 12 months), a royalty free image can be resold and resold multiple times with no such restrictions.

There are, however, restrictions on image use in order to protect the photographer and the stock firm. As one might expect, photographs are not allowed to be used in any way that would defame someone portrayed in the image and may not be used for pornographic purposes. The image may not be resold. Portions of the image may be used and the image may be manipulated or changed. The number of copies of the image that may be made is dependent on the individual agreement with each royalty free firm, but, generally, once a certain number of copies are made one must purchase an ‘extended license’. While the image may be used as personal artwork, many firms do not allow the image to be sold as framed artwork (some do) and not with the implication that it is the work of someone other than the photographer.

So what are most of the downloaded images used for? Well, for the most part, images are downloaded by graphic designers, not your neighbor next door who wants to find an image for their dining room wall. Photographs are often used for such things as websites, advertising, pamphlets, and promotional material. In fact, downloaded photos might never be used in print, perhaps only being used for a mock up of sorts or as a choice of several images the designer offers a client.

How much does the photographer make each time a photograph is downloaded. Again, it depends not only on the individual micro-stock site, but also on the type of plan that a buyer has with the site. Some buyers only purchase individual images, while others have a so-called subscription plan, whereby they can download a preset number of images monthly, weekly, or daily for a prepaid fee. The fee is the same independent of how many of the allowed image downloads they use, so this obviously encourages customers to download. The downside of subscription plans is that the payout to the photographer tends to be low.

So how much are we talking here? Downloads from subscription plans tend to put only 25 to 50 cents per download into the photographer’s pocket, while non-subscription downloads tend to earn the photographer in the $1.00 to 6.00 range (though there are some sites that let the photographer choose their own price for non-subscription downloads).

So, with that background information, in the next installment of this discussion I can start to post some of my musings related to the questions listed in Part 1.