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Should You Allow Venues to Use Your Photos for Free?
Photographers, you KNOW this has happened to you. You shoot a wedding at a beautiful venue and then the venue requests photos you’ve taken of the day. No harm or foul...but you have an eye for making a venue look it's very best (and will likely capture it in a way that may inspire others to book an event at the same location).
The big question I’m hearing in the photography world...should you let a venues use your photos for free?
Let’s chat about the advantages and disadvantages that come with allowing a venue to use your photos for free...and some options that you have available should you want to share your photos with a venue for a fee.
There are clearly some great advantages to allowing a venue to use your photos for their website and promotional materials:
- It showcases your photography work to potential new clients who book the venue
- Creates the potential for a partnership with the venue, and
- Is overall a great resume booster!
If a venue is a popular location for the type of event that you shoot, having them display your work on their website or in their lobby is a huge asset for you in terms of easy word-of-mouth referrals. However, if you are not being paid for the use of your photos, you may be providing the venue with beautiful promotional materials and not receiving a proportional benefit.
It is really important to consider the potential magnitude of allowing a venue to use your photos for free: it could bring in massive amounts of business for them, all based on the hard work you did. On the other hand, providing these photos as an act of good faith with the venue may create a long-lasting relationship, which may over time provide you with more client referral benefits than charging for those initial photos would have.
The great news is that you have multiple options to consider when providing photos to venues whether that’s complimentary or for a fee.
One of these options is establishing a commercial licensing agreement with the venue. Commercial licensing agreements are a great tool to have in your “small business legal toolkit”, and can help you get your photos displayed by the venue, get paid for your work, protect your business from any copyright issues, all while providing the venue with the ability to showcase their location in a beautiful, stylized way for their own marketing and advertising.
Commercial Licensing Agreements
A license agreement is a business contract between two parties: the licensor (who sells the license and owns the asset being used) and the licensee (the buyer paying for the right to use). The licensee pays the licensor for the right to use their product, and usually, the licensor ensures some form of exclusivity or limited copyright use.
Licensing agreements are a great option to establish a legally binding agreement with a venue that can result in a great networking tool for you to display your photos. Should you decide to pursue a commercial licensing agreement, there are some things to consider:
Establishing ownership of your product. In your licensing agreement, make sure that there is language establishing you as the owner of your photos, not the venue. This is important because it protects your other rights as the photograph owner should some other third-party infringe or use your photos without permission.
Define the scope of usage. Clearly articulate what photos the venue is allowed to use, cannot use, and make sure that both parties are on board with the definition of what ownership you will still retain as the photographer (such as the requirement to credit you). Within that scope, include any restrictions that you need, such as not allowing the venue to use your photos without your watermark, etc.
Pricing. The fee for a venue to use your photo can be your full retail price, or sometimes photographers will charge a discounted rate in exchange for the publicity that comes from the venue’s use of the photos. You can also negotiate some type of non-monetary fee with your commercial license such as the venue must promote you in their packets to potential clients, that you are the #1 photographer they recommend, you are linked in all their direct email marketing, etc.
- Time limits. How long do you want this agreement to last? Do you plan to automatically renew the agreement once that time passes (usually license agreements last for one year), or do you want to reserve your right to negotiate later on?
Other Options & Considerations
Aside from formal commercial licensing agreements for singular photograph usage, there are other options you can pursue with a venue should they approach you with an interest in your work.
- Arrange for a styled shoot. Setting up a styled shoot allows both you and the venue to make sure that the photos are exactly what you both want. This gives the venue some control over the setting, locations used, and set up, and also allows you to create more stylized shots that you wouldn’t necessarily have the ability to create in the middle of a chaotic wedding or event. This allows the venue to pay you for your styled shoot services and ensure that they get exactly what they’re looking for.
- Keep your watermarks and provide business cards. This does not explicitly relate to whether or not you provide your photos to a venue for their use, but if you do, make sure that you provide the venue with business cards they can make available to their clients if they express interest in the photos. Also, make sure that you solidify in writing that the venue will retain any watermarks you put on your photos when they use them (you can do this through email). This prevents any confusion about who shot the photos and also provides potential customers with another way to find your website and/or contact information.
Ultimately, the choice to allow a venue to use your photos for free is up to YOU!
You know your business better than anyone else and know what the right moves are. Don’t worry about what your photog friend does--everyone runs their business differently and maybe you’re a wayyyy better networker than they are.
As The Legal Paige, one of my goals is to give you reliable information and things to consider when making these decisions, so that you can make sure that your business is successful and legally legit. I highly suggest a commercial licensing agreement for any type of photograph usage by a venue to protect yourself but make sure that you are weighing all of your options. And, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to create your own path to success as a photographer!
THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.