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What Are the Rules for Relicensing Real Estate Photos and Video?

June 22nd, 2017

Jack in Florida asks:

I took photos and a video of a large property that has been for sale for close to two years. The Realtor I did this for contacted me and said that the seller would like to purchase the images and video from me. I was wondering if there any problems in doing this. The only thing I can think of is that if the seller decides to go with another Realtor then she could have the new Realtor use these images. Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome.

As the photographer, you own the rights to the photos and video so you get to make the rules. If the homeowner is going to put the property on the market FSBO you can license them to use the photos and video for use only in marketing the FSBO listing or allow use when selling the property by other Realtors. The important thing is to make the licensing terms clear. In this kind of situation, it would probably be helpful to write the terms down.

Update June 25, 2017: There is always a lot of diverse opinions when we talk about photo licensing. I think it would be useful to distill down the main points of this subject:

  1. Frequently beginning real estate photographers don’t think about photo licensing so they never even discuss the subject with their clients until some problem arises. The problems are always hard to unwind and fix because there was never an upfront understanding and agreement on licensing.
  2. Over 50% of experienced real estate photographers don’t bother to discuss the subject of photo licensing with their clients because they never relicense photos and would rather not even bother with the subject. See this poll from 2016.
  3. The best advice we can give on real estate photo licensing is to think carefully about what your policy is going to be about relicensing photos and include that policy in a written terms of service that the client agrees to before the shoot or before they pay for the shoot. This is what David Eichler is suggesting below in the comments.
  4. As Jerry Miller below points out you don’t necessarily have to have the terms of service signed for every shoot. It is acceptable to get client agreement at download by saying “by downloading these images, I agree with the terms of service”. Or have a similar statement on the invoice.
  5. In addition, because frequently people don’t pay attention to or read terms of service, I think every time you get a new client it is a good idea to take the time to explain your terms of service, including licensing and have the client sign your terms of service at least once.

So as the photographer, you own the rights to the photos you shoot and can, therefore, decide what your relicensing terms are. As the poll indicates, around  47% of PFRE readers relicense photos and 53% don’t bother.

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16 Responses to “What Are the Rules for Relicensing Real Estate Photos and Video?”

  • I’ve had that experience a few times. Now I just tell my client the photos are not for sale or transfer unless we BOTH agree. Recently I had a magazine inquire about a photo they wanted to use for a cover (home sold/ everyone happy). I almost said ‘sure!’ but thinking of my licensing terms I asked my client first. I think it was more for my ego than honoring a commitment that seemed obviously null by then; “absolutely not” – was their answer.

    Where I live the opportunity to win the battle and lose the war presents itself regularly. I don’t think it really matters what your licensing terms specify if it means you’ll jeopardize a solid client relationship executing them…

  • While in all the years I have been shooting RE, I have never had the clients sign a contract for services. In all those years, I have never needed one. My terms and conditions are understood at the beginning of the relationship and I am from a generation where a persons word was their bond. A hand shake means something.

    That said, in all those years, I learned that when dealing with the public, you MUST have a written contract and even then you will have problems. we charge an amount that takes into account that the images will probably be miss-used. Provide a range of usage and pricing that they can select from, after that it’s a crap shoot once they have them.

    Bottom line, if the images are miss-used, it rarely is worth the time and effort to get relief from the violation. Understand that and your life will be less stressful. In the big scheme of things, chasing after nickles is a waste of time.

  • While I agree that I have the right to re-license and allow a homeowner or another agent to use my photos to market their property, however, I would NEVER do so without the full approval of my original client — the agent that originally paid for the photo job. If the original agent saw the photos they paid for being used to market a property that they lost, they would be pissed — not good for my business. I have had a couple cases over the years where the agent contacted me and gave permission for a different agent to use my photos — a rarity.

  • I kinda feel that the client paid for the images for marketing the property and themselves. They understand that I retain ownership so I can use them to promote me. Other than that I have never had an issue come up. If the homeowner or new property owner objects to my use then I remove them, they are after all a few pictures out of thousands. Keeps the blood pressure down.

  • I use a contract for every job, hoping that the client will abide by it. Having a signature helps keep people honest. However, if someone goes and uses my photo without permission, there is not a lot you can do about it, short of spending tons of money on a lawyer.

  • The copyright is just that… a right to copy that belongs to me. I actually re-license frequently… generally at a 25% discount to new user. This makes them happy, and I don’t have to go out and reshoot the property.

    Additionally, many of my properties are condo/high rise with numerous amenities (pool, clubhouse, fitness center, media room, community center). Once I shoot these images, it would be silly for me to reshoot the exact same images every time. However, I do not charge for the reuse of community images.

    Occasionally, but VERY seldom (once or twice in the past five years) an agent has contacted me to tell me that someone was using “their image” – in this case it was a building exterior. I gently explained the copyright and our policy, which is written on all email communication, our website, and our invoice(s).

  • Well to answer the question directly… In the USA there are no “rules” I know of only US Copyright Law.

    I have relicensed a few but that was only after making sure it was OK with the original agent who paid for the shoot. I explain to them it is my right and I own them but I am being courteous to them. I usually abide by their wishes but they know I’m thinking of them. Most want new ones anyway even if I have them.

    I shoot extras like amenities of neighborhoods, entrances, signs, condo common elements etc. I’m sure to tell any agent “I’m not charging you for these and I will make these available to all agents that I shoot for as long as they are paying me to shoot that property they are using the extra images to advertise. They all like this.

    While I’m on site I make it a practice to review the images with the owners and the agent. At that time I let them know that while I retain ownership of the copyright to the images “just because I like them” I’m giving permission for the agent to share the images with them as long as it’s not for commercial use and they just use them for personal and family use. This makes the agent look good, gets the copyright info understood and makes the owners happy. That is worth a lot more to me than the few dollars and the pain in the rear of making and selling a cd of the images to the owner or agent as a gift to the owner.

    In the end the good will is worth a lot more than the relicensing pains and revenue.

  • I see it a little differently. Yes, you can sell the images to the homeowner, but this may be a better opportunity. First, the Realtor must be Ok with it if they called you. I’d offer to sell the package to the homeowner with a onetime, one year, licensing agreement for about 20% more than the original Realtor paid you. That can easily be justified because you have an ongoing relationship with the Realtor, entitling him to a “discount”. Then, I’d refund the original purchase price to the Realtor. Instead of making full profit, you’ll only make the additional 20%, but the Realtor will love you. Nobody gets hurt, you get your name out there again, and it could truly be a “win – win”.

  • If an owner wants a full set of images and video, chances are very good that they are planning to change agents or go FSBO. Since it was the agent that is relaying the request, hopefully they realize all of this.

    I have no problem with relicensing images. I charge the same amount to the purchaser for the same license terms. I am upfront with my clients about this policy so they know. To date, nobody has had a problem with my policy. Generally, if a home in my area with photos I have made for the marketing doesn’t sell within the agent’s contract period, it’s probably due to the seller wanting too high a price or they have other requirements that buyers are not willing to accept and the agent that contracted me knows this. If the paint store comes up with a color scheme for one customer, that customer shouldn’t expect that the combination is exclusive to them and get mad at the store for selling it to another customer.

    If the agent wants to buy out my Copyright, they would have total control over the images, but the cost would be prohibitive.

  • If your real estate agent or broker contacts you because their seller wants to buy your photos and/or video, simply ask what the intended use is and give options that work well for all.

    Don’t get bogged down in the weeds or make it more complicated. Just keep it simple, make everyone happy, and provided exceptional customer service.

  • What you can do with the photos at this point depends upon the usage rights to the photos that you granted to the client who commissioned the photos. If you did not grant that client any degree of exclusivity for their usage of the photos, then you are free to license the photos to other parties as you see fit.

    As for Larry’s comment about it being “helpful” to write the usage terms down, that is bad advice. It is unprofessional for a photographer to not give their clients written terms before the assignment that describe the usage rights conveyed, the scope of work and the general terms and conditions regarding payment, cancellations, delivery of the photos, etc.

  • @David – Yes, of course, the professional thing to do is write down licensing terms up front but polls I’ve done here have shown that well over 50% of PFRE readers don’t even talk about photo licensing with their clients let alone write anything down.

    My assumption is that Jack is one of that 50 % where there has never been a discussion about licensing.

  • Larry, I understand that, and that is why I take you to task for your comment. “It would probably be helpful to write the terms down,” is not, in my opinion, what these people need to hear. This is not an either/or situation. People are looking to you as an authority for business advice and I think comments such as these do not serve them well. You have literally written a book on the business of real estate photography and thus I feel you have a responsibility to provide clarity on such matters.

  • With all due respect David E., while your view is one that may work in a perfect world, in the real world it does not. To have a written contract presented, agreed to and signed for each and every shoot is logistically impossible to do and meet the client’s expectations. Our clients have the expectation that they can schedule a shoot, inform us of the home owners name who will meet us or give us access to the properties through some other means so that they do not have to waste their time coming out to the property and pick their nose while we photograph. The whole idea of this service is so that they do not have to waste their time on photos.

    Even if you were to get a written contract for your first shoot, that contract is only for that shoot and nothing else. Each separate shoot requires a new signed contract….. What works and has been held up in small claims is the email you send with your download option to the client that stats, “by downloading these images, I agree with the terms and conditions below”….

    The only contracts that I have signed are with agency’s and large projects were the amount is substantial. Otherwise I am not going to insult my clients by demanding a signed contract for a $300 dollar job.

    Bottom line, to those that are starting out, be sure to take the time to go over the terms and conditions with any new client at your first meeting, then put those same terms with your caveat that by downloading these images, they agree.

    PS, nothing turns off a client more than a new contractor pushing a contract in front of them and saying, “Sign this”….. These agents are not business, corporations, etc. They are just like you and me… People

  • Shirt and Shoes required. You don’t have to initial the sign at the front of the restaurant that you have read and understood the sign. The owner is letting you know, unilaterally, that you are not welcome without proper attire.

    A contract is different from your Terms & Conditions. You do not need to have a customer sign your T & C’s although it can’t hurt. Having the licensing terms on your website and on invoices can drive the concept home and remind agents that the photos are not their property that they can do with what they will. That said, agents are all about contracts and paperwork. That’s what most of their job entails so if you want to present them with a contract, any professional agent should not be put off. You should also be ready to negotiate a contract where your T & C’s are a statement on how you run your business and may not be subject to negotiation.

    The above applies to most Real Estate work. Other types of work that are more complex, the client is a big corporation or the value of the job is much higher, a signed contract that describes what you are to deliver and how/when you are to be paid is highly recommended. You may also want to execute a blanket contract when you are doing a bunch of work for a brokerage and agents or the office manager can schedule your services. You want to have in writing whom is allowed to schedule you and if there is any requirement for a PO from them. how you will bill the work and your payment terms.

  • Hello Ken, Contracts may take many forms, mine is a handshake and the persons word. Those that break that bond, should have a lot more to worry about than the fact I will no longer do business with them. A person without ethics is a lost soul, something this new generation of snowflakes on each coast should heed. Thank God for the flyover country.

    As to agents being put off…..really, that happens all the time for whatever reason. Just like the idiot that buys a expensive new camera and Wham! becomes a professional RE photographer. The six month course to become an agent does not make a pro, it just sets them on the right path that takes time and experience….just like a photog.

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