Licensing Media for Real Estate - Are you doing it?

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Aloha everyone,


I thought I'd write a little bit this morning about media licensing.  I've been realizing lately, there are many real estate media providers out there who shoot the images or video, work their magic in post production, and turn the media over without any licensing restrictions at all.  The practice has become so common, that now many realtors don't even know that licensing exists, much less how it works.

So, what is media licensing and how does it work?  Basically, it's this:  According to U.S. copyright law, photographic media (including video) is owned by the creator of that media, unless otherwise agreed upon via verbal or written contract.  In short, if you click the shutter, you own the image, unless you're shooting for an entity for hire, who already had you sign something saying they own the media you create.  An example of for-hire work would be second shooting a wedding, being an in-house magazine photographer, news journalist, etc.

As independent imaging specialists, only we can determine how the media may be used.  For example, when I license media to a realtor, it's for a specific time period, duration, and comes with limits.  Some of those limits are that it's non-transferrable, non-exclusive, may not be used as paid-for advertising, and many more details that matter to me.

Once a property has sold, realtors no longer have need for the media, outside of personal advertisement for their own marketing (i.e. showing a potential listing client the media they use).  However, it's become commonplace for brokerages to use images from their agents' listings for all manner of in-house ad work.  I've even discovered multi-million dollar brokerages swiping my images from the MLS system, using them on their corporate websites.  These are not small companies doing this, and they know better, and I'm quick to offer them the opportunity to purchase a license or remove the media.  

Ok, so you're probably thinking right now that you really don't care if some brokerage swiped a single image or two and made a few hundred million dollars without paying you.  That's ok, I suppose, to each their own.  But wait!  There's MORE!!!

If you work in an area where properties are bought and sold repeatedly, you'll want the opportunity to license that media to the next realtor who's picking up the listing.  It happens here on Maui often...condo up for sale, I shoot it, it sells, next realtor comes along in a year, nothing inside the unit has changed, so they license the existing media from me.  Another opportunity for re-licensing media is when the home doesn't sell, and is picked up for re-listing by another realtor.  Right there is your earning potential in full have images, they need images...let's connect!

Now, here's the tricky part where a lot of media providers miss the point.  How much should I charge to license media I've already created?

Ready for the answer?  Ok, here goes:  Full price.

Yep, you read that correctly.  I charge full price to license imagery to a realtor, whether I'm shooting it for them, or already have it on a hard drive.  Why?  One word: VALUE.  

By offering media that's already created, you bring huge value to the table because you're helping the realtor to skip the hassle of having a photoshoot, making sure the home is clean & staged, waiting for the perfect weather, waiting for the media to be delivered.  Instead, you can enable them to list that home the day they pay the invoice for the media you've already created, and THAT is VALUE.

We don't make a ton of money shooting for realtors.  It's no secret, but it's still a fun workspace, and there's potential to earn much more once you open the licensing box.  Our market has become crazy saturated, and that's not something we can stop.  However, we can preserve the market value by exercising our media licensing rights.

I hope this sheds a bit of light onto the power and importance of licensing for those who are just starting out, or have never considered this concept.  Remember, our media serves as assets.  Licensing is how to monetize those assets over and over again.



Warmest Mahalo,





Edited by JBR LIFE Photography
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Excellent summary, Jonathon.  While I don't work in that particular space, the concept is important and your VALUE proposition with repeat work and pricing is spot on. 

You could add another + to you list.  The media buyer can see what they are getting up front and then decide rather than basing their decision on similar work = VALUE.


Edited by Dave Pitman
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  • 1 month later...

I'd like to comment on this subject only because you hit a nerve!  You talk about re-licensing, well I don't know about you and how you conduct your business. After reading your comments I would imagine you have a small staff of people. You don't work alone and you have the time to search out any images that you have taken that are re-used without permission.

That is really great for you. 

I'm a one-man shop. I've tried to hire a salesperson but no one wants to live in poverty based on what I could pay them. With that said I don't have time to make sales, process images and then search the web for stolen work.

What you talk about is great, all well and fine. What you don't talk about is how the heck you have the time to get it done.

All the best to you.


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Aloha Vincent,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.  I can see how one would imagine that I'm running some sort of big operation here, but the reality is that I'm not.  My wife helps with a few admin parts of the biz, but outside of that, I too am a one man show.  I've tried hiring folks, but the reality is that I'm just too darned picky, and I never could train someone how to see what I see.

I don't spend hours on end combing the internet for illegally used images.  Sure, it comes up now and again on one of our social media channels, or I'll see an MLS listing with a stolen image, but that's about it for the effort I spend on that.  

Instead, I choose to spend time on the front end of things, educating my clients BEFORE we shoot.  The key is to get your client base understanding of this concept, so that when the time comes for someone to ask them for the pics of their new place, your clients already know to direct them back to you for licensing.

As we all know, business ownership is more than a full-time job.  It's a full-life job, where you eat sleep and breathe the stuff, and I completely understand not having enough time for certain aspects of it all.  You just have to prioritize what's most important for you to fit into your busy schedule.  For me, the priority is maximizing the earning potential of the assets I create.  

Good luck with your endeavor, and welcome to the forum!


Warmest Mahalo,


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  • 1 month later...
On 4/14/2019 at 5:17 PM, andyru307 said:

Thanks Jonathon for writing the post and sharing your thoughts. I currently haven't crossed this bridge but have been asked the question about re-licensing recently. Appreciate your perspective.




You're welcome, Andrew, I appreciate you taking the time to give it a read!

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