Julie Vincent Photography | Wait, WHAT? License fee? What's that?

Wait, WHAT? License fee? What's that?

March 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

So, you've had a new set of head shots done and you're about to go get your marketing on, but all of a sudden, your photographer is asking you for a license fee. Can they do that?


When you're booking your photographer, it is important you communicate what you want to do with your images: do you want them for personal use on social media? Your personal websites? The sides of buses? Billboards? A print ad campaign? Your business cards? Are you a private individual or a business?

The images your photographer makes are copyright, and the photographer is always the first owner of those images. You are granted a use license. Will every photographer put this into writing? Nope. Should they? Yup. Can they come back to you for license fee if you use the images they make for you in a commercial, or advertising capacity? Yes, they sure can.

In 2012, Canada modernized the Copyright act. Prior to that, photographers were not covered, and were required to add an ownership clause to any contract. Since 2012, however, it is written into law photographers own their work, regardless who it is done for, or why.

Here's the core of the act, as it relates to personal and commercial uses:
Personal Use:
"In the case of a private order for a photograph or image made by an individual for non-commercial purposes, the person who makes the order has the right to reproduce the photo as he sees fit, without the photographer’s authorization. This person has the right to authorize anyone to do the same. He may print as many copies as he wishes, distribute them, or publish them on the Internet without limits."

A note on the "unlimited" bit here: your photographer CAN write a contract that limits or specifically prevents you from reproducing the images. Do you have to sign that contract? No.
Can your photographer structure their contracts and their business in a way that protects their work and their income? Absolutely.
Do photographers who don't protect their business and their work stay in business very long? Nope.
Are there other similar protections in the business world? There sure are; patents, trademarks, non-disclosure agreements, non-compete agreements. No viable business gives its product/process away.

Commercial Use of Photography:
"Any commercial use is prohibited without the author’s authorization. The customer may give the photo to another individual (such as his mother or his sister), but may not sell it. He also may not give it to an organization (for example, the firm for which he works), so that the business can use it in its communications or on its website, because this constitutes commercial use, related to marketing and public relations."


A professional photographer will have structured packages, but unless that photographer is a commercial photographer, and if you haven't disclosed your intentions, you may not see a section in that contract specifying the license fee for commercial use.

Don't assume that fee won't apply if you are going to commercialize your images. You must tell your photographer what your intentions are. It is not enough to say, "I just want a few digital images for my website," and saying that can get you into trouble if, later, those images appear in an ad campaign.

As always, if you're not sure, ask.


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