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Copyright License Agreement for Photographic Work

Copyright License Agreement Photographic Work

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, the moment a photographer sets their work on a medium, they have an exclusive right–or copyright–to reproduce and make copies of the image, distribute it to the public, display the image in art galleries, and create versions of the image. 

Copyright laws protect a photographer’s intellectual property. They give them the right to control how their work is used and help them earn a living from their images. However, copyright rights are best secured through a copyright license agreement. 

What Is a Copyright License Agreement?

A copyright license agreement, one of the many contracts for photographers offered by The Contract Shop, is a document that permits others to use images created by a photographer for commercial, retail, or editorial purposes. It is an agreement made between a licensor (the photographer) and the licensee (the client). 

The agreement limits the ways a client can use the images after acquiring the rights to them. It does not imply the sale of the copyright. It means the client has the right to use the photos provided by the licensor only under specific conditions. 

Types of Photo Licensing Agreements

The scope of use of a photo licensing agreement depends on the requirements of the licensee. Here are some common types of license categories used by photographers: 

Unlimited Use

An unlimited-use photo licensing agreement enables the licensee to use a photograph without having to abide by any restrictions (such as platform or geographical limitations). However, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can use the photograph for an unlimited amount of time. 

Royalty-Free License

A royalty-free license allows licensors to sell photos at a flat rate. These images are typically sold at a specific resolution and don’t have usage specifications, which is why they’re more affordable for licensees but usually don’t generate much revenue for the photographer. 

Rights-Managed License

A rights-managed license limits the use of a photograph in specific ways. For instance, it could limit the use to a specific period or a location. This type of agreement enables the licensee to purchase a photograph for one-time use. If they need to use the image for longer, they would have to pay additional licensing fees to get the rights to do that.  

Exclusive and Nonexclusive License

An exclusive license enables a single licensee to use a photograph without any restrictions, which means the photographer loses the ability to earn other income from this image. For this reason, exclusive licenses are usually expensive. 

In contrast, a nonexclusive license allows the photographer to sell the image to more than one licensee, who will have the right to use a photograph without any restrictions. 

What to Include in a Photo Licensing Agreement

Here are some must-haves that should be included in a photo licensing agreement:

Description of Work

Clearly describe the work being licensed in the agreement. For instance, you can describe the work as “Fourteen (14) retouched print files from the June 20th, 2023 photoshoot for Bridal Magazine, Inc.” You should be as descriptive and clear as possible to reduce any confusion in the future about what was purchased. 

Rights Granted 

Mentioning the exact rights you’re granting to the licensee is the main focus of the copyright agreement because photographic work can be used in many different ways. For instance, a photo can be used on websites, advertisements, billboards, magazines, and flyers. 

Also, specifying whether the photo can be altered, modified, cropped, or adjusted is crucial to its use. Otherwise, the licensee can use the work however they want. 


You must mention the exact amount you need to be paid for the images listed and the rights transferred. It’s also important to have the agreement explicitly state that the licensee can only start using the photo after the fee is paid or they will be infringing on your ownership rights to the image. 


Licensing agreements can be exclusive or nonexclusive. The former ensures the photo is licensed to only one user and under specific parameters; the latter enables you to sell the images to whomever you wish. 

Make sure you include clauses permitting you to use the image for promotional purposes, such as on your portfolio, website, or social media. If you don’t, you might lose your rights by default.

Plus, you should also mention in the agreement whether the licensee is allowed to sublicense or give the license to a third party. This ensures you get the revenue you’re entitled to from your work. 

Geographic and Media Restrictions

You must also define where and through what formats or platforms your work can be used. For instance, you could restrict the use of your work to the U.S., North America, or on websites only. 

Plus, you should limit your work to digital or print media to make sure it’s not used on anything other than what the licensee says it would. 

Miscellaneous Considerations 

In addition to the clauses described above, you should consider including the following terms in your license agreement: 

  • Payment schedule 
  • Late fees and interest 
  • Severability 
  • Indemnification
  • Representations and warranties
  • Waivers 
  • Remedies for breach of contract
  • Confidentiality

Final Thoughts

While you can write your own photography contract, we recommend leaving it to the experts. A minor omission in a copyright license contract can lead to missing out on a lifetime of earnings, so it’s better to invest in our lawyer-written contract templates.

Looking for an event photographer contract and what you need to know when signing for your event? Check out our latest post!

Kevin Gallagher
Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher is the CEO of The Contract Shop®, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, freelancers, coaches, and more. His background is in helping online businesses grow, having previously worked at Allbirds managing part of their operations. He is proud to report that his digital artist wife Mandy is a happy customer of The Contract Shop®, and his main motivation is to help as many people like her as possible with the tools that they need to confidently manage their businesses.

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