Branding Blog

Photography: Rights Managed could mean single use only!

Written by Dale Berkebile | Tue, Mar 30, 2010

Over the years we have seen a lot of things change in the creative industry of advertising and branding. One of the big things recently was how photos were used.

We just ran in to an old client of our having a problem with their photos. It seems like a photohouse is asking them to see a receipt of some images they used. Sadly we were not able to help them out and fix their problem since we were not the agency that purchased the images in question. I did however feel bad for the current marketing director who realized how poor record keeping can really do a number on a company. She was calling every agency the company has worked with which I am betting it a pretty big number.

Any how after doing research I found out that the images that were in question were Rights Managed images.

Here is the definition Wikepedia give for Rights Managed:

  • Rights Managed refers to a type of contract between two entities (the licensor and licensee), that is employed when licensing the rights to use content such as photographs. The term Rights Managed means that the seller of the license is specifically giving permission to the buyer to use the content in a certain way. This typically includes restrictions on the length of time, the medium, the size, the format and the location of use. The more flexible, or beneficial rights one purchases, the more expensive the license.

You see you can only use these images as your agreement states. So let's say in this situation with my past client that a design firm bought some right managed photos for a print marketing campaign- maybe a press kit. Then let's say that the company stopped working with this design firm. It would not unheard of for a company to request all the files from the design firm so that the new head of marketing and new design firm could use some of the files they bought.

*As a side not keep in mind the all working digital files copyrights are owned my the design company and they do not have to share these files with the client- obviously sometimes it is best just to pass along these files, but only in rare situations.

Now let's say the new marketing people have a big stack of folders and CD's with all kinds of files. It would be very easy for future designers to get these files and just start using them on their web site or trade show collateral. This would be breaking the law and the photohouses have every right to come down on you if you break this law.

Today there are a lot of ways to get your photos-

  • Custom Photography - this is a great way to go if you need product shots or want to build your brand through unique images. Photographers have several different ways of working so you need to read their contract to see if this is the best solution for your needs.

  • Rights Managed - limited use and bought through a photohouse and great for custom branded companies that get full usage for a certain time. In this case no one else can use this image to promote their company. The usage of these images however can get quite expensive especially if you want exclusivity.

  • Royalty Free - this is typically photos on a CD or bought individually online. These images can be used for anything once they are bought. You pay one price and can use the image however you want and in whatever medium you want. Use it for print project, on your web site or whatever, but keep in mind anyone can buy the same image and use it for whatever they want as well. This can water down your brand so be cautious and look for obscure or hard to find RF images for your best bet.

  • Creative Commons - again, you have to read the fine print and make sure you are following the rules for the images you use. These images however can be free and downloaded from or other web sites. The great thing is you just have to give the photographer credit to use some of these photos so this makes a great way to add photos to your blog without having to pay an arm and a leg especially if you blog several times a week.

  • Lastly Stolen Missused Photos - this is illegal use of image you find online and use for commercial purposes. The owners of these photos can come after you when you misuse any of the above mentioned photos or just other random image found online or elsewhere. Stay away from these issues by understanding what kind of images you have and what rules you need to follow for usage of those images.
I hope this helps you understand the importance of proper photo usage. Do not run into the situation my past client did where a photohouse is looking to fine for misuse. It just isn't worth taking the risk. To our past client, we wish the best of luck getting this cleared up and we hope you find the documentation that you own the rights to these images.