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‘Rights Managed vs. Royalty Free Stock Photography’


Royalty-Free licensing, also known as "RF", is a very broad-use license that does not require additional payments for additional uses. The amount of time an image may be used is generally unlimited. There are almost always restrictions to use; these vary but the most common limitation is on re-licensing the image. Price is almost always based on the pixel-size of the image.

Rights-Managed licensing, or "RM", is priced for a specific use based on factors usch as length of use; type of use; number of insertions; size; number of impressions or displays; geographic region; etc. This type of licensing allows stricter control over an image's use. For some photos lacking a model or property release rights-managed licensing is needed to make sure it is not used for advertising because the image lacks a model release or property release.

Quick Tips and Industry Information:

*About 2/3 of stock images are licensed as RF but these account for only 1/3 of revenue.
*About 1/3 are licensed as RM but account for 2/3 of revenue.
*RF prices are rising.
*RM prices are falling.
*Most mid-level photographers who sell stock sell both RF and RM.
*Those who sell only RM tend to be older, more skilled, more established and generate more income per photo.
*Those who sell only RF tend to be new to stock photography with limited experience in the business and/or only sell stock photography as a sideline.
*RM offers more protection and control over use. When a RM license is purchased it is good for that use only and for a limited length of time.
*Copyright is not transferred with either the royalty-free or rights-managed license.
*Contrary to what some suggest, RF images are licensed; the license simply requires no future royalties (license fees) to be paid for extended use or if the image is used in various ways.
*Images of people (and in some cases, property) without releases should be licensed RM to control unauthorized commercial use.

Royalty-Free and Rights-Managed are loosly defined terms. Each agency has its own license and/or method for dealing with licensing. United States copyright law gives the copyright holder complete control over how "intellectual property" may be used and reproduced. Here's some more information on copyright from Wikipedia.

If you are marketing your images yourself, rights-managed licensing makes the most sense for all your images unless you have an automated purchasing system (e-commerce) that does not require human intervention. It makes sense not to give away any rights that might limit a big sale later on, especially if you are going to spend the time dealing directly with the buyer anyways.

Most photographers market their stock photos through agencies; this allows the photographer to concentrate on creating photography and not get bogged down in marketing and customer service. Marketing is a specialty and is best done by those who know how to reach the target audience. Click here for a list of agencies.

Some photographers consider licensing any images royalty-free as foolish but many buyers will license only royalty-free photos these days so you might be passing up sales by offering photos as rights-managed, especially if the photos are not especially unique. One should consider the potential income royalty-free vs. rights-managed when choosing the right licensing model and it is suggested that this decision be made on an image-by-image basis if you wish to maximize your revenue.

While it is possible to make money selling royalty-free images through micro-payment agencies do not make the mistake of trying this on your own. If you are marketing your own images, whether royalty-free or rights-managed, it is wise to price them according to industry standards. Micro-agencies make money by selling in volume and unless you have a LOT of images and a big marketing budget you cannot make much money with the micro-payment model.

Selling subscriptions is also not a good idea for an individual. If a buyer is willing to buy from you rather than a large site or agency it is likely because you have a unique image and that buyer is willing to pay for it. In fact, it is wise to price your stock photography higher than an agency like Getty or Corbis to help create a aura of exclusivity.

As a general rule, images that are unique and hard to find elsewhere should be licensed rights-managed while more common images are better candidates for royalty-free. If you're unsure which model is best for you start with rights-managed. Once you license an image royalty-free there is no going back.

Never, EVER try to license an image using more than one licensing model at a time. If you know an image has never licensed royalty-free you may move it to rights-managed and once all rights-managed licenses have expired on an image you may move it to royalty-free.


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