Copyright licensing terms can be a major bugbear for photographers when negotiating contracts with clients, who sometimes become confused with the myriad and sometimes complex variations of image licensing.
With this in mind Dallas Dogger, chairman of commercial design and marketing agency, R6 Digital, has found a straightforward ‘tradesperson’s’ approach – handing the client all rights to the image – to be beneficial to his business.
‘Commercial photography is a service – it’s not art.’
‘I put forward that we need to rethink copyright as shooters. I did [rethink copyright] many years ago and I am doing well from photography, and not only me but full-time staff are shooting pictures and video work for clients,’ Dallas told Inside Imaging. ‘We employ 45 staff in Brisbane. We give clients a price and they pay. If they use the material, fine, they can’t resell it, but they can use it where ever they like. We get paid to do the job.’
While copyright is the principle protecting creative works by providing legal security from image theft, Dallas keeps the arrangement with clients simple and free from restrictions. He compares photography to other services, and points out how absurd it would be if a plumber quoted a job based on who will be using the amenities. Whereas the professional photographic industry does this, ‘and in the process talks itself out of work with tricky documents and hard-to-understand terms for the customer’.
‘In my view, commercial photographers get the copyright thing wrong. We are asked to quote on a job to take pictures. The client accepts the quote. We now have a contract to take pictures and hand them over in whatever form that is agreed upon. Our quote covers our time, cost to do business and the deliverables – reflecting the investment we made in the gear we use.
‘When we hand over the images, we are paid. End of contract. What the client does with them actually is their business. Obviously, our quote covers our costs to produce the images needed for their use.’
‘Rights managed’, ‘editorial usage’, ‘royalty free’, and ‘royalty free extended’ are the four fundamental image licences. They’re fairly straightforward and the basics can be learnt in an afternoon of dry reading, but clients don’t always come to the consultation equipped with this knowledge.
There is a tendency for photography customers to think they’re paying a photographer for ownership of the images – from families and couples through to commercial and advertising clients. But when reading the contract they may learn this isn’t the case, with the licensing agreement limiting usage.
For instance, a photographer often considers how the work will be used when drafting a quote and contract. If a marketing agency plans to use photos in a large campaign spanning billboards, magazine and print ads, as well as digital and other media, a photographer may charge more than if the photos appear in a low circulation one-off print-run for a brochure.
If the client decides to make the campaign bigger than initially planned, certain licensing usage clauses in the contract means they may be legally obliged to pay an additional fee.
This has obvious benefits for photographers, who can pull in additional revenue. But a client may use the images for purposes beyond the contract – perhaps out of ignorance – and often isn’t willing to pay an additional fee. This is particularly an issue if the usage is minor, like uploading a few of the pictures to social media.
Dallas finds it’s not worth his time, with the risk of souring a business relationship, to attempt to recoup additional fees. Instead, he advocates for the photographer to just keep it simple.
‘The crazy notion that you should pay based on the use in my mind is just dumb,’ Dallas said. ‘If you are shooting a job for advertising, you charge for the work it takes to get it done. If you are shooting and you don’t know the usage of the work then again, you have not done your homework.’
During consultations, Dallas won’t bring up copyright or licensing ‘unless the client does’. And if they do, then it’s a matter of explaining they’re free to use the images as they please.
Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit. After all, they paid for them!’
‘The industry gets itself wound up about “who owns the images”. In reality, the client does. When you look at taking pictures it’s no different to any other work. Fee for a product and service. Commercial photography is a service – it’s not art.’
Dallas may be opening a can of worms here, as there are undoubtedly commercial photographers who view their work as ‘art’. But his opinion is shared by others who feel at odds with their work being called ‘art’.
Years ago a prominent WA commercial photographer told Inside Imaging he felt alienated by the now-defunct AIPP, with it exclusively measuring professional excellence through an ‘artistic’ lens via APPA. He pointed out that, despite being a successful commercial photographer, no one is interested in awarding him ‘for photos of a washing machine’.
Likewise, Dallas states, ‘if the professional photographic industry as a whole understood that it’s little different from any other service or product industry, it would prosper far more.
‘The AIPP was infiltrated by part-time photographers who all thought they were Ansell Adams. There were clearly not professional. They were more concerned about self-congratulation from awards and posting their client-owned images on their own socials to build their own profiles, and this is toxic to a professional industry.’
While R6 Digital is a ‘full-service’ digital agency – covering everything from photography through to design and SEO – Dallas has used this business model for years.
With weddings, for instance, ‘charge the right money, hand over the images and move on. Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit, after all, they paid for them!’
This means not getting hung up if they apply tacky Instagram filters, crop images, and prints them at Big W or via Snapfish.
‘This is a big day for those to be married. Charge the right money, agree on image quantity, and then hand them over.
‘By all means, sell a print package and a low and hi-res digital package that is professionally produced. Most photographers want to showcase their shooting skills, so seek agreement to have use of the images from the client for self-promotion. And do. Do not use the event as a personal showcasing exercise as most do or another opportunity to take that award entry. Do not use the event as a personal showcasing exercise as most do, or another opportunity to take that award [-winning picture].
‘This approach means less trickery. When I owned Ambassador Studios in Canberra a long time ago, we won business on a simple formula. In the digital space, it’s a lot easier to deal with image numbers. Charge the right money, hand over the images and move on. Get agreement to use some images for promo work, but let the client use the images as they see fit. After all, they paid for them!’