This is a subject that is misunderstood by many people, but yet very important.
To begin with, the photos produced by a photographer belong to them. Even if you pay your photographer, the photos taken during the commissioned shoot do not belong to you : you pay for their time, expertise, experience, equipment, license, etc. But the photos remain their intellectual property, or copyright (the terms are interchangeable).
The license allows you to use photos in a certain context. It is like your permission by the photographer to use the images, but the license sometimes comes with restrictions. So it's important to discuss exactly what your needs are with your photographer before a session. Your license rights and restrictions are in your contract and often explained before you even book a session or purchase an image, for example on the pricing page, in the terms and conditions, in a confirmation email, or in discussion with the photographer.
Why is this important?
If you don't know your restrictions and use the photographs in a context that the license does not allow, you are using them illegally. Not only do you risk certain penalties, but you are stealing your artist's work.
To help you understand, let's look at an example. When you buy a physical CD or a song online, you have a personal license that permits you to listen to that music. You don't have the rights to use that music in a commercial context, for example by making a video and putting it on Youtube. To do so, you will have to buy the commercial license rights, which will cost a bit more and will depend on the usage. You are also not allowed to transfer or resell this music : if someone else wants to use the music, they will have to get their own license and pay the fees separately. It's the same principle with photography.
Personal license vs. commercial license
Let's look at the personal license and the commercial license.
Personal license : Use is allowed only in a personal context, as the name suggests. You can use the photographs on social media and you can print and frame them at home, as long as the images are not used to promote a business or make money in any way. This is the least expensive license. The images cannot be transferred or sold : if someone else wants to use the photos, you must redirect them to your photographer.
Commercial license : this is a bit more complex, and it is the most expensive (a single image can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars). A commercial license gives a company the right to use photos in a commercial context, i.e. on their website, social networks, marketing campaigns, magazine, in their offices, on promotional posters, etc. On the other hand, there may be certain restrictions on use (e.g. an online-only license does not allow the photos to be printed; use must be made only on a website and on social networks). Furthermore, a commercial license prohibits the company purchasing the photos from reselling or transferring them to a third party company or person for use. Therefore, only the company purchasing the images have the right to use them. If someone contacts you for the right to use the images, it is not up to you to answer : you must redirect them to your photographer.
Non-exclusive license : this means that your photographer can sell licenses of the images from your session to other people or companies for their use. The images you receive can be used by other companies (e.g. after a real estate photography session for a broker of a condo for sale, the photographer could sell a license to the construction company for them to use these images for marketing purposes; the pictures are not exclusive to the broker).
Taking pictures on a website, on Google, or anywhere else to use them for commercial or personal purposes is therefore prohibited. No matter how you use the photos, you can only use royalty-free images or pay for a license to use an image for your company.
If you can't afford to do a photoshoot or buy an image license, websites like Unsplash, Getty Images, iStock and many others are a good solution to find royalty-free photos.
Even if you just want to put a photo on Instagram or your website, make sure you have the right to do so. To be sure, ask the photographer. It's likely that the photographer will charge a licensing fee, the amount of which varies depending on the use.
Finally, I'd like to bring your attention to the concept of "giving credit" to the artist. You may think that using a photo is okay if you mention the artist's name and company, to give them exposure, but no. As artists, it's not easy to make a living. And contrary to popular belief, giving credit to an artist is not a form of payment, and is not beneficial. Why is this? Because exposure doesn't pay the bills. It's as simple as that. Of course, if you want to give credit on a photo that you are using legally, that's up to you, but be aware that it does not make it legal or proper use just by mentioning the artist's name and business.
Here is an explanatory video :
If you still have trouble understanding this concept, don't hesitate to ask your photographer for more details. Also, LP Photo is at your disposal if you want to know more about licensing. Contact me here
Cytonn Photography - Unsplash