User and licensing agreements for food photography can feel intimidating. But they're important tools to protect your photographic work, your copyright and to ensure good communication and understanding between you and your food photography clients (or even a brand who just wants to share your image on social media). Blogger-turned-professional-photographer Darina Kopčok provides an overview of photography user agreements and why it's so important to have one each time you allow someone to use your work.
As a food blogger, you may be approached by an organization to share your images or do sponsored work that includes photography. Bloggers have brought a fresh visual language to the genre of food photography, which was a highly specialized and somewhat weird little niche not that long ago. We’ve revolutionized the way food photography is seen. It’s vital to not underestimate the value of what we contribute to this new visual marketplace and to protect our rights and the integrity of what we’ve worked so hard to create.
The shadowy world of copyright and usage can be complex and confusing. If you’re creating work for hire — that is, original content and images for a client or brand —you’ll not only need a contract outlining the deliverables, but you’ll also need a user agreement.
You’ll also need a user agreement if a brand or organization asks to use one of your images. Whether you seek payment or some form of compensation is a topic for another article, but if you allow anyone to use even one of your images, you should always, always get them to sign a user agreement.
So What’s a User Agreement and Why Do You Need One?
A user agreement is a contract in which you — the photographer — grant specific rights to a client or collaborator who wants to use an image you’ve created. The client may only use the image within the outlines of this agreement.
Under the Canadian Copyright Act, your images are protected as with any other work or art, such as a novel or a painting. You are not “selling” your image or giving up your copyright; rather, the client is licensing the image from you for a specific purpose and time frame.
You’re the lender and they’re the borrower.
As with other types of contracts, a user agreement protects you as the creator of an image and prevents misunderstandings between you and a client that can lead to bad feelings and legal hassles if someone feels expectations haven’t been met. Only when everything’s in writing and the client has a clear understanding as to what’s being agreed to, should your images be released.
What Are the Types of Photograph Licences?
There are two types of licences:
- Non-Exclusive — allows the photographer to license the same image to other third parties under separate agreements during the same time frame
- Exclusive — doesn’t allow the photographer to license the image to other third parties for the duration of the agreement
Sometimes a client will request an exclusive licence to ensure the images they associate with their brand don’t appear elsewhere or are used by their competitors. They should be required to pay a premium, as an exclusive licence will prohibit you from earning more income by licensing the image to other third parties or licensing it through stock photography.
What Should the User Agreement Include?
When you’re writing up a user agreement (and considering your price), it’s essential to think about how the image will be used and the visibility of the brand using it.
For example, last year I shot a campaign for a food-based startup that was negotiating a retail presence at the time. There was a chance the business could flop, or that it could take off and become a highly recognized brand with nation-wide distribution. The product is now being sold in recognizable chains such as Whole Foods and London Drugs in Western Canada.
This means that the visibility and brand recognition provided by the photography has more value than if it were used by the mom-and-pop taco joint down the street, so it should be priced accordingly and the terms well thought out. It’s the same image, but the value to the client is greater.
The user agreement should also specify whether the licence is exclusive or non-exclusive, and describe its intended use. I don’t recommend granting unlimited use for an image; otherwise, a brand can use it across every conceivable platform: in advertising, on billboards and for product licensing. Be very specific about what they can use your image for.
Specify the time frame in which the licensee is allowed to use the image. If they want to use the image beyond this time frame, they’ll have to purchase another licence from you.
I also state in my user agreements that the client is not allowed to alter the image beyond adding some text or resizing it, and that any changes to the image file require permission from the photographer. If they add crazy filters and strange cropping, it can negatively alter your style and the integrity of your work.
You can view a copy of my standard License of Electronic Rights here.
If the client wants something changed, do it for them and be clear from the outset that they should come to you for this.
Educate the Client!
Unless a client has worked with photographers before, they may not understand the ins and outs of copyright law or why they need to sign a user agreement. Educating the client is key. Sometimes those who use images without asking or question contracts and written agreements do so out of ignorance — meaning, in the way of not knowing. A local small business or startup brand may need our help in understanding the transaction.
It’s important to communicate with self-confidence and to recognize that your work has value to the person approaching you.
It’s important to communicate with self-confidence and to recognize that your work has value to the person approaching you. At the same time, remaining respectful and professional can lead to building a mutually beneficial relationship, and more opportunities and income down the line.
The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice and the writing or review of contracts and user agreements, please consult a lawyer.
- Those Are My Images on My Blog: Ask My Permission First!
- Business of Blogging: Diversifying Your Blog Income
- Blogger Quick Tip: Media Kits & Pitching Your Blog for 2016
Photographs for Hire: Why You Need a User Agreement was written by Darina Kopčok, a blogger turned professional photographer based in Vancouver, BC. She has shot campaigns for nationally recognized brands such as Hardbite Chips and Wild Coast Fruit Co., as well as worked with international organizations based in Europe and the UK. She is also an experienced writer and educator, working with bloggers and aspiring photographers to elevate their skill set and navigate the business side of the photographic industry. Darina blogs at gastrostoria.com.