Pixels.com recently launched an image licensing option to the site for artists, photographers, graphic designers, etc. Image licensing is much different than selling prints, greeting cards, and iPhone cases. Instead of selling a physical product, you’re selling your actual image along with a legal contract (i.e. the license) that specifies what the buyer can and can not do with the image. If you’re not comfortable giving a buyer access to your images, then stop right here – image licensing isn’t for you.
Image licensing involves a great deal of trust. Once you sell your image to a buyer, there is absolutely no way to guarantee that the buyer only uses the image for the purposes that are specified in the license. For example, if you sell a license that allows a buyer to use one of your images on the cover of 50,000 books, you have to trust that the buyer won’t use the image to produce 10 million books… or use it in a TV commercial… or use it in a full-page print ad in a magazine.
You would have no idea that the buyer was doing any of those things unless you happened to catch him red-handed (e.g. by seeing your image in a TV commercial).
If you don’t trust your buyers to do the right thing, then image licensing probably isn’t for you. However, before you write off the whole licensing industry, consider the following:
1. There are lots of honest buyers who do the right thing because they WANT to be honest.
2. There are lots of honest buyers who do the right thing because they NEED to be honest.
The “NEED TOs” are the most interesting to discuss. Lots of buyers NEED to purchase image licenses and use the images exactly as specified by the licenses because there are huge legal implications if they don’t. For example, let’s say that you’re a buyer who’s putting together a 30-second TV commercial and that you want to use a few sunset images in the commercial. You could go to Google Images and grab lots of beautiful sunset images for free, so why bother paying to license images from Pixels.com, Getty Images, Shutterstock, or any other image licensing company? The answer is simple. If you steal images from Google Images and put them in a TV commercial… and the owners of the images see your commercial… then you’re in big trouble. The image owners will sue you… and win… and then you’ll probably lose your job at the ad agency that you work for.
What about the buyers who WANT TO do the right thing?
You can go to YouTube right now… listen to “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones… and download an MP3 of that song to your computer… for free:
Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGyOaCXr8Lw
Here’s a website that will convert the video into a free MP3 for your iPod: http://www.youtube-mp3.org/
If anyone can download the MP3 for free, then how does iTunes sell million and millions of MP3s for $0.99 each day?
The answer is simple. Lots of buyers WANT to do the right thing. Even though MP3s can be downloaded for free all over the internet, millions of people still choose to pay for them each day because that’s the right thing to do.
Now… if you’re going to use “Start Me Up” in a TV commercial… it’s not a matter of wanting to do the right thing… you NEED to do the right thing. There is absolutely no way that you’re going to try to sneak that song into a TV commercial without proper authorization. You need to contact the Rolling Stones and get them to sell you a license for the song.
Microsoft did just that when they launched Windows 95 back in 1995:
How much did Microsoft pay the Rolling Stones for a six-month license to use “Start Me Up” in that TV commercial? Millions.
There are lots and lots of buyers who WANT to and NEED to license images for a variety of purposes.
A puzzle manufacturer that wants to produce 500,000 puzzles and sell them at Walmart NEEDS to do the right thing and purchase an image license from you because Walmart requires it… and because you’ll sue him for royalties and damages if he doesn’t.
An advertising agency that wants to use your image in a full-page print ad NEEDS to do the right thing and license the image from you. A book publisher that wants to use your image on the cover of a book NEEDS to do the right thing and license the image from you. A production company that wants to use your image in a TV commercial NEEDS to do the right thing and license the image from you. An interior designer who wants to use your image to produce 500 framed prints for a Las Vegas hotel NEEDS to do the right thing and license the image from you.
If you’re interested in generating additional income by working with these types of buyers, then image licensing might be for you. If not, that’s perfectly OK. This is just an additional sales tool for those artists and photographers who are interested in giving it a shot.