Dealing with “All Rights” Requests.

Contract - All rights
Sorry it’s not a sexy image – even I struggle to come up with an exciting image for a blog post about usage and rights.

Here’s something that I have to deal with on a fairly regular basis. Someone contacts me with a job, asks for a quote or an estimate, and when I ask about usage and rights, they come back with something along the lines of:

“well, we don’t really know exactly what we want to do with them now, so can we just use them for anything we want?”

or the nearly as common, and much more direct:

“we need all rights”

Now, I’m sure many, if not all freelance photographers have been in this situation before, probably many times. It’s always tricky weighing up standing up for your rights, against the loss of work if you kick up too much of a fuss. If you let them have “all rights” for a couple of hundred quid, you know you’re doing yourself out of lots of money, as well as any future earnings with those images and that client, as well as setting a precedent for the future, both for yourself and other professionals. On the other hand, everyone feels the pressure of not wanting to completely alienate the client by playing hard ball.

I’m assuming that at this stage, everyone is familiar with the difference between granting “all rights” and “copyright”, and why one is possibly, maybe, under-certain-circumstances acceptable, and the other is totally-unacceptable-under-any-circumstances. If not, expect a helpful post in the not to distant future.

Let’s assume then, the we don’t want to put the client off by billing them accurately for all rights usage – as such a figure could be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. How do we balance their need for usage, versus keeping an eye on our own rights, as well as coming up with a reasonable fee? The best way I’ve found is to talk them back from “all rights” to a point where they think they’ve got enough to go on, but you’re still retaining some freedom of movement, and hopefully charging a decent fee.

So, working on the assumption that the correct interpretation of “all rights” is all media, worldwide for all eternity, start to chip away at these areas one by one. Ask them if they think they’ll need to use it in Asia-Pacific, or North America – often they’ll laugh at something like this, and you can steadily bring them down to a point where they realise that actually they only want UK usage, plus possibly Europe as well. Next move on to time, and ask them if they really want usage for an infinite time, or whether a couple of years will do. In most commercial applications, images over a few years old are a bit redundant, as a new model will have come out, product alterations will have been made, or the pictures in question simply have no “news” value any more. Again, you’ll usually find that clients will realise they only need a few years.

Last, ask about media. If you’re dealing with something like a PR company, or magazine, ask if they’re likely to use them on 48 sheet posters, or bus stops. 9 times out of 10, as with the other questions, they’ll scoff, and say “of course not!”, at which point you focus on which specific media they will need, and agree on that.

Having followed this procedure you’ll hopefully still have the client on your side, and you’ll have brought them down from “all rights”, which should have a MASSIVE fee attached, down to something like UK, 2 years, Consumer and Trade Press Advertising. Now you’re far better able to give them an accurate and more affordable quote, plus you get to charge them again 3 years later when they forget the usage has expired….

One last thing, so obvious it should go without saying – beware of that nasty word “exclusive”. It’s perfectly acceptable that a client may wish to prevent you from using images they commission with a directly competing client, but if you sign over full exclusivity for images, you’ve usually done yourself out of any future usage. That usage could be editorial, stock, or even future ad campaigns. Denying yourself this is clearly not a great idea, and if you’re forced into signing such a contract, make sure it comes with an appropriate amount of compensation!

Actually, there’s one more last thing – I’ve been discharged from Jury Duty, so hopefully that’s me free of that particular burden for quite some time! We found him guilty, and I had to be the foreman, your honour. Thankfully I didn’t fluff my lines.

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