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Rights Managed Images

Stock picture libraries come in all shapes and forms and there are probably many hundreds of them throughout the world. I have come across the following main types:

  • Rights Managed Only Ė All images are sold for a fee based on lots of criteria.
  • Rights Managed and Royalty Free Ė All images are sold for a fee, RM as above plus Royalty Free, images sold at a lower fixed fee, but you have limited use.
  • Royalty Free Only Ė All images are sold for a flat fee and have limited use like on websites, or for personal use etc
  • Free online image libraries. These generally have small numbers of images on, and tend to be created from those processing companies that allow everyday people with compact cameras to create albums of their pictures online for family and friends to see.

We have a fuller article on all the types of Stock Photography  Licences and Libraries.....

This article is going to concentrate on Rights Managed Pictures.

Definition of Rights Managed

Rights Managed Picture Libraries are those libraries that offer their pictures for sale either via transparency, print or digitally online or on CD for a fee. Rights Managed means exactly that, the pricing of the image is dependent on what it is, itís size, where it is going to be published, both in terms of publication, territory, for how long the user wants it and so on.

From the extensive research I have done it appears that there are many Picture Libraries selling photographs to the marketplace. They range from the very large, like Alamy, who effectively are a portal for lots of other libraries and photographers through to those that are run by a husband and wife team, where at least one of the two is a photographer or single photographer.

Used By

Picture Libraries are used by amongst others Picture Editors and Picture Researchers of magazines; newspapers; book publishers; packagers; advertising agencies; exhibition organisers; PR companies and other companies and organisations as well as freelance Picture Editors and Picture Researchers working on behalf of these companies.

Picture Editor

The Picture Editor decides on the pictures required for their publication and then commissions and captions the picture. They then brief the Picture Researcher as to what they are looking for. Some may also carry out the Picture Researcher role, but many will have at least one Picture Researcher working for/with them finding the pictures.

Picture Researcher

A picture researcher is responsible for organising and finding pictures and makes arrangements to obtain them. They negotiate prices, arrange payment and deal with the copyright for reproduction of a picture or photograph. This is a largely freelance profession with limited training opportunities. There are various training courses available for people who want to enter this field as well as some job agencies that specifically place people in work.

Fees charged to clients and Photographers Returns

The fees charged to clients of Picture Libraries vary enormously from company to company depending on a long list of factors, but typically I have seen fees quoted from £30-£500, the NUJ produce a guide for itís members with editorial stock library rates ranging from £60-£550. Pictures used for advertising or exclusivity usually command a higher fee.

The photographersí return on the other hand is typically 50%. The Picture Library gets half and the Photographer gets half, although I have seen some splits where the photographer can get between 35-75%. However caution here, the contract has to be read carefully, because usually this 50% is after the Picture Library have taken out their costs of selling the picture, so you are getting half of the profit and not half of the picture sale.

Contract Terms For Photographer

Initially prior to contract the photographer is required to submit a number of photographs for inspection and acceptance into the library. Now this could be a transparency, the photographer taking along a portfolio, or if they require digital images then they usually specify what format, resolution, file size they would like to see. Once they accept you onto their books, then they will notify you of the fee, which can typically be 50%, and usually request the picture to be held by them for 3-5 years. It is a long-term investment. There is no guarantee when your pictures will go into the library and start being sold, so it is recommended to send small batches rather than large ones. Payments can also vary from monthly, 3 monthly, 6 monthly or they hold an account and payout when it gets over a certain figure, £250 for example. There is also usually a 45-day grace period just in case pictures are returned.

Contract Terms For Customer

From looking through various contracts on the Picture Library websites they are usually quite detailed and very similar, so the industry is tending to work in the same way. However, those who are members of the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) do get a standard contract within a Bible of documents as a part of membership, so that may explain the similarity. Typically they have 21 points and have a lot of restrictions and time critical clauses. Although displayed online, generally terms are printed on the reverse of the delivery note/quotation or invoice for use that accompanies the pictures. The front of the invoice being used for the specific restrictions of use. There are also items within the contract which stipulate the level of liability of the Picture Library in terms of the action being taken against the picture user. Always the contracts state the pictures cannot be used for illegal purposes, which is obvious, or in a situation where something is implied.

Research Service

Most, if not all of the existing Picture Libraries I researched offered a research service, so they employed Picture Researchers themselves, to help the Picture Researcher clients find what they were looking for. There was usually a fee for this service, if initially some of them looked like it was free. For example the fee was included within the price quoted for using the image, however if the picture was not eventually used by the customer then a fee would be charged, which they said would cover the admin and delivery costs of getting the images to the client. Typically a service fee would be around £50.

Digital vs Manual

Nearly all the Picture Libraries I looked at in detail quoted having more pictures in their library than they had online. Mostly because they had been going some years and the majority of their picture stock was on transparency, film or prints. Their digital images had come from having scanned some of their original stock and new stock they were adding and some had moved over to digital cameras.

Some of the Picture Libraries that looked like they were totally digital and had very large numbers of images i.e. millions, were actually including within their sites the digital images of many other Picture Libraries. There was a lot of what I call cross promoting within the industry, either where companies would have cross links i.e. if you canít find what youíre looking for here, go to Ö.í or by actually incorporating others within their website to make it look like it was theirs.

So how do they work

Although you would think that the Client Picture Researcher would do the work, generally they put in requests to Picture Libraries who then employ their own Picture Researcherís to look through their stock either online or going through their offline stock, based on the clients definition. Picture Researcherís like to contact via phone so that they can communicate back and forth what they are looking for. Once a selection has been chosen by the Picture Libraries Picture Researcher then it is sent either via an online lightbox or courier to the Picture Researcher client, with a delivery note and quotes, they then decide what they want to use.


Picture selections are usually sent by signed for courier, however some online libraries can also send via a lightbox.  If the image the customer wants is a digital image then it can be delivered via an email link direct, a link to a website section for download, on CD Rom (which is usually used for large TIFF files). If itís a transparency or print then itís usually sent by signed for delivery, although today most clients want their images in a digital format.


Pictures have to be returned. If the picture is not being used, or one is but the rest of the selection isnít the return usually has to take place within 7 days. Returns made between 7 and up to 30 days have a sliding scale of fees due depending on when they are returned. If the picture is not returned then the contract normally stipulates a fee, I have seen fees of around £400 although many just say they will charge you a fee for their loss.

Captions and Credits

The Picture Researchers are looking for the pictures to be captioned as to what the image is, as they donít want to risk using an image and implying something different.

In most cases the customer will be looking for model releases where people can be identified within the photograph, and sometimes property releases if the property is identifiable.

Some Picture Libraries put in their terms that one condition of using the photograph is that it is copyright captioned when printed and this is usually shown in the form of photographer/Picture Library.


In the UK, copyright belongs with the photographer up to 70 years after their death. For commissioned work, rights have to be agreed in the same way as stock library images, because the copyright still belongs to the photographer and all photos used or unused have to be returned. Staff photographers are employees so do not own the copyright. See our more detailed article in a later issue.

Prices are constantly changing so anything shown here is a guide only.


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