How to Write a License

By Jeff Sedlik

License descriptions are used in estimates, invoices, proposals, correspondence and other documents to communicate the scope of usage allowed for a particular image or group of images. An image license typically defines a grant of one or more of your exclusive rights under copyright law: to reproduce, distribute, transform, display and/or to perform your photographs. In granting a license, you are the “Licensor” and your client is the “Licensee.”

In describing a license, the goal is to:

Grant (or offer to grant) your clients an agreed scope of usage, permitting only specified usages, while constraining all other usages.

Ensure that your clients and other reading the license will precisely understand what they can (or cannot) do with your photographs.

Protect your photographs from unlicensed usage.

A license description should include the parties, permissions, constraints, requirements, conditions, image info and other relevant information. The wording should be clear and concise. If you are not an attorney, don’t try to write like one. Just state the information in simple terms, to communicate the image usages that you are offering to grant to your client.

While it is common to write a license description in paragraph form, the accuracy of such descriptions relies entirely on a photographer’s ability to structure sentences in such a way as to permit only certain usages. This might seem easy, but accurately representing a license in paragraph form can be challenging. In such descriptions, a misplaced punctuation or a swapping “and” for “or” can have a very significant effect on the rights granted. The interpretation of such paragraphs by clients is highly subjective, and can lead to misunderstandings that can destroy client relationships and even result in unintentional infringement.

To address this issue, ASMP and other associations representing photographers, illustrators, ad agencies, designers, publishers, museums, libraries and educational institutions formed the PLUS Coalition (Picture Licensing Universal System) to develop international standards for the communication of image licenses. By using PLUS terminology to describe your licenses, you will allow your clients to rely on standard definitions approved for use by all industries. See Terms You Need to Know.

We recommend that you write your license in list form, rather than in paragraph form. This method will minimize misunderstandings, allowing anyone to easily read and understand the allowed usages of your images. The PLUS standards define numerous fields for your use in writing image licenses. We provide examples and recommendations below.

The Parties
When defining a license, it is important to establish the names of the relevant parties. These typically include the licensor (the party offering the license), the licensee (the party receiving the license) and the End User (the party that will ultimately use the image).

Media Permissions
The central element of the license description. An accurate description of the media in/on which you will permit your client to use the image, and the extent to which your client may use your image in that media.

Media: Describe the category/type of media in which your image may be reproduced. Example 1: Consumer Magazine Advertisement.

Distribution Format: State the format in which the specified media may be distributed. Example 1: Printed. Example 2: Electronic Download.

Placement: State the locations/positions at which your image may appear in/on the specified media, and state the maximum number of placements permitted in each instance of that media. Example 1: Single placement on the front cover. Example 2: Multiple placements on cover and interior.

Size: State the “image size” — the maximum size at which the image may be reproduced in/on the specified media Example 1: up to one-half page.
Example 2: up to 8.5 x 5.5 inches.

Where applicable, also state the “media size” — the maximum size of the media on which the image may be reproduced, or the maximum size of the reproduction of the design in/on which the photograph is reproduced in/on the specified media. Example 1: full page. Example 2: 8.5 x 11 inches.

Versions: State the maximum number of design versions, editions or issues in/on which your image may be reproduced. Example: First edition only.

Quantity: State the maximum number of reproductions of your image that may be distributed or displayed in the specified media. May be stated as the total copies distributed or displayed. Example 1: 10,000 Brochures. For magazine or newspaper advertising, multiply the number of insertions of the advertisement times the circulation of each magazine in which the advertisement will be inserted. Example 2: Total circulation of 850,000.

Duration: State the scope of the time period during which your client may exercise the license. Example: Six months.

Region: State the geographic locations in/to which your image may be distributed or displayed in/on the specified media. Example: Philadelphia only.

Language: State the language/s of text that may be reproduced in the specified media in/on which your photograph is reproduced. Example: English only.

Exclusivity: State the exclusivity provided. Example: Non-exclusive.

In addition to listing the Media Permissions, also describe any limitations that further constrain your clients right to use the image within the stated media.

License Start Date: The date on which the license commences. This is different than the Duration, and must be stated separately. Among the most important and critical elements of your license description.

License End Date: The date on which granted rights expire. The license start date plus the duration equals the license end date. Should be stated separately from the Duration and License Start Date, leaving no ambiguity.

Media Constraints, Region Constraints, Product/Service Constraints, if applicable: Specific limitations on or exceptions to the licensed media. Media example 1: Sports Illustrated only. Media Example 2: Only at the following URL: Region Example: Only in South Pasadena. Product/Service example: Only for Acme Deodorant.

State any requirements or obligations that are placed on your client under the license. Examples include a Credit Line Requirement and the Credit Line Text.

State any additional terms and conditions applying to the license. We suggest the use of the ASMP terms and conditions copied onto the back of your estimate or invoice documents, or included as an additional page in electronic versions of those documents.

Image Information
One of the most critical elements of any license description is the description of the image or images that are associated with the license. Without a stated quantity of images, your client may assume that the license allows usage of all images captured. The license description should precisely define or identify the quantity of images that may be used under the license.

When generating a license description for a stock image invoice, this is a simple matter. However, describing a proposed license on an estimate for commissioned work that has not yet been created can be more challenging. Under some instances, a client may not know the exact quantity of images that might be used. In such instances, determine an approximate, mutually acceptable maximum quantity of images, and state that maximum in your license description. If you then proceed to create additional images that client finds valuable, the client may later license those images separately.

In the Image Information of your license description, describe the quantity of images included in the license, and where applicable, describe the images by Image Title and/or Image Filename.

License Information
It is often helpful to note the Transaction Date, the client’s purchase order number and other relevant information on your invoice.

Additional Tips:
About Duration: The Duration of your license is a window of opportunity during which your client has the right to make use of your image under the license. The extent to which your client elects to make use of the licensed rights during that period is entirely up to your client. When the license expires on the End Date, your client is not able to continue to reproduce, distribute, display, transform or perform your images, unless your client acquires additional licensed rights. If during the license period your client elects not to make use of the images, or elects to make use of only a portion of the rights granted, this is your client’s choice, and has no bearing on the license fees paid by your client to you.. For this reason and others, it is essential that you state a Duration, Start Date and End Date in every license. Example: Client licenses the right to print 10,000 brochures and to distribute the brochures for one year. If after one year, the client has mailed out only 8000 brochures, the remaining 2000 brochures cannot be distributed without an additional license.

About Size: It is important to clearly define not only the size at which your image may be reproduced, but the size of the media in/on which your image may be reproduced. The sizes may be relative (percentages/fractions) or absolute (specific maximum measurements). License fees are typically based on the scope of usage granted under the license. It follows, then, that smaller usages are associated with a lesser fee than larger usages. Stating the media size alone is not fair to your client, as your image may occupy only a portion of that media size. For example, if there are two photographs reproduced on a large billboard, one of which is full bleed and the other of which is a smaller insert, basing the fee for each image on the size of the billboard alone would be unfair to the client. For this reason and others, it is appropriate to state both a media size and an image size in your license description, where applicable.