Upfront cost vs. Copyright License


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Hello,

I've been reading some posts in this forum and am curious if anyone charges for the use of a copyright license vs. charging a flat fee for a photo/vid package.  I'm interested in starting a video/photo company focused on real estate and such, but am trying to determine the best way to price my work.  Thanks.

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Hi Hacktorious,

I'm an architectural photographer and am starting to use a drone to expand my capabilities.

My advice to you is to run your business with copyright and licensing at its core (assuming you're in America, different countries have wildly different copyright laws). You are the author/creator/artist, so you own the work you create. You then license usage of this work to your clients.

This is very important because you can sell the same work to multiple parties, either all together (many parties split your fee), or you shoot for one and then license the images to additional parties.

The big challenge here is clients' understanding of this. Most realtors in my experience, especially single-family and condo brokers, want 20+ photos for a listing and put everything on the MLS which is a big copyright grey area. They get the photos and assume they own them free and clear and can give them to anyone. That's not necessarily bad (I guess morally speaking), but it destroys your business because it greatly decreases the perceived value of your work. Realtors are paying you out of their own commission check (which they aren't guaranteed to get if they can't sell the property), which typically means they want to spend as little as possible so they can sell a property. The images are just a means to an end.

Architects on the other hand need high quality images to show their work for years to come. They have a marketing budget (they're a company and this is a line item) and depend on showing their creations (homes, schools, restaurants, etc) to future clients in presentations and online in order to stay competitive. There's great value in this, which justifies high quality images with attention to detail, aesthetics, etc. Further, these images can be published in local and national media, used in advertisements, and on and on... all of which can be covered and charged for in licensing.

I'm being a bit unfair to realtors here, but that's based on my experience of being told "oh, we sometimes pay our secretary $20 if she comes along to shoot some photos" compared to architects devoting a full day of 5 employees to come out to help make a shoot high quality with multi-thousand-dollar budgets.

Also, I prefer to charge clients by-the-image. If they want 5 images that's probably a half-day shoot with a half-day retouching. If they want 15+ that's a long day with lots of retouching. If you're charging by-the-image, this naturally works out to more money for more work. If you charge a flat fee for your time (is a day 4 hours or 16?), the client often wants a billion photos because they're paying a flat fee and will squeeze as much out of you as they can. If a flat fee is required by the client make sure the work is portfolio worthy and the fee is high enough that you won't be obligated to give away too many hours of your time.

IN SHORT - find the architect/homebuilder/designer/engineer and work for them by licensing your copyrighted work to them. All of these people benefit from beautiful drone photography, either alone or in combination with a formal interior/exterior shoot. They will value your services and be thrilled to see their creations from the sky. High-end realtors may be a good bet, but any homes under $1m or $500k likely won't have the budget to compensate you for doing great work.

Best of luck! 

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Hi Hacktorious,

The best way to determine how much to charge is to figure out what your goal income for the year is, add in your expenses then divide by 52 to figure out what you need to make each week to make that number. Decide how many shoots you feel you would like to do during a given week. Next, divide your expenses by the number of shoots. That will get you in the ballpark. If you feel the number you come up with isn't feasible then you need where you are able to compromise to get that number in line. 

As a photographer, I agree with what a lot of what Flagship Photo said for rights. Realtors will pay for shoots (yes they often compromise and use cell phone photos etc) but it is your job to convince them of the value. Typically you will find a handful of high-producing realtors that understand the value and will pay, and a lot of realtors that aren't big producers that are hesitant or outright refuse to pay. Often times the less producing realtors will follow the big producers lead eventually but not always.

In my experience Realtors are not too keen on having to worry about copywrites and such. I would go so far as to say they disregard any concerns the majority of the time. Remember they are your customers, so you have to find a compromise that will give them what they want but pay you what you deserve, or decide not to work with them. Many photographers work up an agreement giving the Realtor rights to use the images pretty much however they would like, but you will want to be sure you retain ownership and the right to use for your portfolio.

The biggest complaint I hear is a photographer doing work for Realtor A, then when Realtor A loses the listing Realtor B just takes the images and uses them. Obviously, that doesn't quite seem fair to the photographer. 

You will have to inform the Realtors of your policies up front, let your clients know the policies prior to the shoot and then pick your battles when it comes to protecting your rights. You can fight for the principle of the matter but you might find yourself without clients pretty quickly.

I am confident that won't sit well with many photographers and ultimately it is up to you. I will say clients who understand the value you bring will be the most willing to pay fairly for your work and are typically willing to work within your parameters. The clients who consistently try to talk you down on price are more likely to complain and be difficult to work with. 

I hope that helps.

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  • 1 month later...

And because everyone has a camera in their pocket, everyone is a photographer ;)  The last house we sold, our realtor took the photos with his phone.  They looked so terrible, colors were off, so much so that oak colored trim looked pink in some pictures.  The house sold, but I don't think his photos really helped that much.  Everyone wants something for little or nothing it seems.  I have been mulling what exactly I can do with my 107 as far as a business.  There is so much potential in the field but also so many roadblocks.  I know it goes back to the question of quality but I can literally have people tell me they can take pictures/fly a drone as well as a pro.  I work in IT and you don't know how many people are "experts" about computers because they have one sitting at home or their boyfriend/girlfriend works in IT and tells them how stuff should work.  Well if you know so much, why did you call me???

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Hi - I have been involved with production and copyright since the mid-70s. Copyright is an old model, it was developed to protect sheet music, films and other things that had recurring value. Very often the copyright holder was also the promoter - ie he didn't make a dime unless he sold tickets or whatever.

It evolved with photography - go negotiate with Corbis or Getty and you will see how specific it can get. Print, billboard, 1 month, one year, unlimited, US, worldwide and on. But keep in mind that is a picture that is done and probably been approved internally. In many cases it is cheaper or faster to just buy the image you need and get on with the day.

This may not be popular but my advice with things like real estate is to sell an all-rights package and be done with it.  It is much easier to negotiate - you pay me and do what you want - there are not forms to fill out and there is no enforcement. Not even Getty and Corbis try to enforce anymore. Unless you are extremely professional and dealing with sophisticated clients you will blow more deals than you close. Read the rest of these posts - cheaper, faster. And you are going to tell that customer that he has to pay you extra every time he wants to use an image? I don't think so.

The exception where negotiation would be expected is an advertising campaign where you might want to keep the rights to the Miami skyline at 6am because you can resell it later. And where the agency would pay you based on use. The other exception where you might want to keep the copyright is something that has residual value that can be resold. You can keep the copyright and give the clients all the rights they need for their project. Don't forget you then have to complete the copyright process otherwise you don't have a chance.

But stuff that is specific to a company or business that has no residual value, give them the rights and go do another project. There are too many people out there who will give it away to stand on principal for something that is basically worthless to anyone but the original client.

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On 3/4/2017 at 11:16 AM, Christopher Korody said:

This may not be popular but my advice with things like real estate is to sell an all-rights package and be done with it.  It is much easier to negotiate - you pay me and do what you want - there are not forms to fill out and there is no enforcement.

Not to mention you will be able to charge more (after you have thoroughly explained the difference of course).

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On 3/4/2017 at 10:16 AM, Christopher Korody said:

This may not be popular but my advice with things like real estate is to sell an all-rights package and be done with it.  It is much easier to negotiate - you pay me and do what you want - there are not forms to fill out and there is no enforcement. Not even Getty and Corbis try to enforce anymore. Unless you are extremely professional and dealing with sophisticated clients you will blow more deals than you close. Read the rest of these posts - cheaper, faster. And you are going to tell that customer that he has to pay you extra every time he wants to use an image? I don't think so.

The exception where negotiation would be expected is an advertising campaign where you might want to keep the rights to the Miami skyline at 6am because you can resell it later. And where the agency would pay you based on use. The other exception where you might want to keep the copyright is something that has residual value that can be resold. You can keep the copyright and give the clients all the rights they need for their project. Don't forget you then have to complete the copyright process otherwise you don't have a chance.

But stuff that is specific to a company or business that has no residual value, give them the rights and go do another project. There are too many people out there who will give it away to stand on principal for something that is basically worthless to anyone but the original client.

YES. Great points, @Christopher Korody.

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Hi everyone - 

I haven't been real active on this forum but I thought I would weigh in with what I do in regard to licensing, rights, charging etc.  I'll try to make this a quick (I am not know for this!), succinct read.

I license / sell use of my imagery in a couple of different ways.  Almost always, regardless of the deal I own the imagery and am free to use it as I please.  There are a few exceptions to this, let's start there.

1) Cases where I don't end up owning my imagery - Work for hire, very high price commercial jobs.  This has happened a number of times in my still work when working for a major brand.  In those cases the imagery that I created wouldn't have had recurring commercial value to me as it contained trademarked material.  In these case I had a very high day rate, did my shooting, in some instances I edited and delivered in others I shot and delivered directly.  In nearly all the cases I was able to show the work when proposing new work to clients but where I wasn't I could point to work and list clients like "Brands include, BofA, Crowdstrike, Nike, etc"

2) Someone mentioned flat rate - about half the work I do is architectural work.  Both with traditional cameras and with aerial systems.  Almost all of this is billed as a daily rate, plus all expenses and I give the client a direct use license that they and the direct tenants can use.  The client knows that they can use the imagery for all their needs, forever, and I also can use the imagery or allow others to as needed.  I have a handful of clients that I do this with and I prefer this.  First my client knows that I am not coming to them to hassle over licensing (I don't have time for that), they pay a day rate that allows me make enough that I really only need to work a handful or two of days a year and they get exactly what they need.  For these clients though, they have been with my for multiple years and I know that typically they are going to hire me for well into six figures of billable work a year.  I charge them a day rate, travel, food, production, travel time, etc.  They are really good size productions.

3) Licensing - I try to stay away from this except that I have had a number of images, sold through an agent to large travel brands that have either taken images I have my agent representing or commissioned.  They have a strict license on usage and duration (and a number of other factors) and they pay for that particular use.  Typically this image cannot (or similar images in a series) be used in a commercial use by me or any other clients during this licensed use.   I first negotiated something like this on my own, it went well, no problems, I was happy with the fees, then I had an airline a number of years ago that had a new route from one side of the world to another and they wanted to use an image of mine.  I went through an agent and that figured was 10X what I previously charged.  This business is increasingly rare, but over the course of years has been a good piece of income.

4) Stock / Agencies - this has been terrible. over 10 years I have probably made somewhere in the range of $10k from ALL stock / microstock agencies. The prices have gone from multiple dollars / image / download to multiple cents.  There are people that are doing well and they are putting up 10k+ images / year (or month for some) and are dedicated to it.  If I was going to try and make it off stock I would get into a platform like offset where I am dealing more with companies in scenario 4 above.

One this to be cautious of @Christopher Korody up above stated "Not even Getty and Corbis try to enforce anymore" this isn't true, they do.  All the time, they have really sophisticated methods that have gone way beyond simple hashing and they enforce use a lot.  Enforcement for them is much more lucrative than selling is.  With enforcement they look for punitive damages and if you have received a letter from them then you have seen this.  But that's simple, don't steal work.

Hopefully this helps someone with some thoughts!  

Bill Nichols

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Great post Bill - this is the way photography as a business used to be when I was coming up in the 70s. My point about Getty and Corbis was that for a small guy it is virtually impossible to enforce copyright violations. Even if you look at court filings by Getty and Corbis there are virtually none and last I checked a few years ago there had been no awards. And to your point, the tools that they use and the staff they deploy is as far as I know well beyond an individual. I do agree, don't steal - after all if you want your work to be valued then you have to value the work of others.

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Thanks for hopping in (and great to see you!) @Bill Nichols. You're a wealth of info. For those of you who haven't checked out Bill's YouTube channel, it's chock-full of great tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0y5uY7vEXZJdDeYH4UwEAQ

BTW, Bill, happy to sponsor one of your giveaways. Shoot me an email and we can figure something out.

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