They’re using my photo! Inconceivable!

Posted on Posted in Advertising, Design, Marketing
Inconceivable! Wallace Shawn as Vizzini in The Princess Bride
Inconceivable!

I know you licensed that image, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Have you ever seen an advertisement and done a double-take because you KNOW you’ve seen that image somewhere before?  Well, you probably have.  With the advent of low-cost royalty-free stock photography, this phenomenon is happening more and more. One day I use a photo for a client website, and the next day, the same exact photo appears in my inbox from an unrelated company. Hopefully you steer clear from using the same photos as your competitors, but that is the risk you take when you use stock photography.

The two ways to guarantee that no one else is going to use the same image as you is to either purchase the complete rights to an image (which can often cost exorbitant amounts) or hire a model and a photographer and do your own photo shoot.  Make sure you have an arrangement with the photographer that at the end of the day you will own all rights to the photos and they won’t be reused or re-sold. Custom licenses and contracts are always negotiable, but make sure you figure it all out ahead of time.

Unfortunately, the cheaper a photo is, the more likely people will license and use it.

How do photo licenses work?

The Biltmore Email newsletter used the same royalty-free photo that we used for White Collar Investigations
The Biltmore Email newsletter used the same royalty-free photo that we used for White Collar Investigations

Royalty-Free Images

No, these aren’t FREE, they are royalty-free. These images are usually the least expensive to purchase, and the quality tends to be on the low end (but not always). This means that you license an image at a certain size, usually determined by the pixel dimensions of the digital image, and you can use it wherever and whenever you want and as many times as you want.  License particulars vary from vendor to vendor, but the general idea behind royalty-free images is the same.  NO ROYALTIES!

Websites like iStockPhoto.com, 123rf.com and many others license images like these starting at $1 (for a small web-size).

Rights-Managed Images

A rights-managed image means that you have to purchase an image for a specific use and time frame.  You can license it for a day, a week, a month, etc. You normally have to also disclose to the vendor where and how it is going to be used.  Web, print, commercial, editorial, the list can go on and on.  Many factors are calculated into the final price.  At the end of your image license time-frame, if you want to keep using the image, you have to renew the license.

These types of images usually tend to be of a higher quality and are more desirable than royalty free images, which is why the vendors can often get away with charging higher prices.  These images usually start at $500 for a single use at a small size, and go up from there.  The final price can end in the thousands.

Beware, you are responsible to renew your own image license.  When the license runs out, the image files do not self-destruct like the mission tapes in an old episode of Mission Impossible.  Although you may still hold the digital file for the image, you can not use it in a public piece without renewing the license.  Yes, Big Brother is watching, and you may find yourself in a legal matter when the image vendor calls on you with a letter to cease and desist and to collect $5000 of past royalties for using an unlicensed image.

The Discovery Channel used the same royalty-free image that we used for Amit Arava, a Counselor and Sex Therapist in Westport, CT.
The Discovery Channel used the same royalty-free image that we used for Amit Arava, a Counselor and Sex Therapist in Westport, CT.

Custom Photography

This is always a great option when the image you are looking for is specific and realistic.  (If you need an image of a model in the Caribbean, and you are located in the mountains of Colorado, you probably should consider other options) however, the cost of a model and a photographer for a day can often be MUCH CHEAPER than licensing a Rights Managed image for a year of unlimited use.

Free Images

There are select websites like www.sxc.hu that offer FREE photos for commercial or editorial use.  Be sure to read the image details carefully.  Different people have different license requirements and some request to be notified of use and/or credited. Overall these images are of a much lower quality than you would find anywhere else, but I have been able to find rare gems among them. And as my Father says, “It’s hard to beat free.”

Good luck on your image endeavors and let me know if you have any questions!

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