Shopping Links Blog

Looking to Get More from Your Imagery? The Types of Licenses You Need to Know

September 13, 2017
Blogger, Agency

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When you first started your blog, you probably never dreamed you’d need to become as savvy about contracts as you are about content — but part of becoming a successful influencer and entrepreneur is understanding the value of your work and how to properly license your creative property. 

Every image you have taken, from the extras that never made it to your Instagram account to the photos you shoot for brand collaborations, are yours to license. Understanding license agreements allows you to negotiate the best terms for each project, respect the permissions you have granted brands, and put your library of unused content to work for you. 

First, let’s distinguish between your copyright and a license.   

The copyright is your legal protection of ownership over a particular image. You are the copyright owner of any work you produce, and no one may copy, distribute, display or use your work without permission. 

A license effectively grants permission for others to use your imagery while you retain the copyright. Even if you grant exclusive licensing rights to a single brand, you still own the copyright. Your license terms explain the limits of the permission you grant, such as how long a buyer may use your content and in what manner. For example, you might not allow a brand to modify your work.  

There are two ways to license imagery: assignment and stock. When you create content specifically for a collaboration, such as through Shopping Links, you use an assignment license. When you make existing imagery available to use on a content marketplace or on your own website, you use a stock license. 

In either case, you will likely use one of two common agreements: Rights Managed (RM) or Royalty Free (RF) licenses. Here’s what you need to know about these two types:   

Rights Managed licenses allow the one-time use of a photo for a specified purpose. For example, you might license an image to a brand for a single advertisement in a magazine. If that brand wanted to use the photo for a different campaign or even a different medium, such as their blog, they would need to purchase an additional license. 

Royalty Free means granting wide use of an image across different projects without requiring a user to purchase multiple licenses. With this type of license, a brand could purchase your image for use in their EDM, then also use that image for their blog, social channels and other mediums you specify in your license agreement. When making your content available Royalty Free, it is important to consider the length of the license and the types of use allowed, such as whether you’ll allow use in a print publication or digital-only.  

As you license your content, you will also need to be aware of exclusive versus non-exclusive agreements. Any time you complete work specifically for a brand, you will likely use an exclusive license, which limits how you can offer an image to a third party. Images shot for Shopping Links collaborations, for example, are exclusively licensed to Shopping Links and the sponsoring brand for a period of three months. The brand and Shopping Links are still able to use your images after three months but not exclusively meaning that you can then license the images to a third party.

Under exclusive licenses, you typically cannot sell the same or highly similar images to a competitor, but companies in other industries might be all right, depending on the license. Ask about these details as you negotiate your contract to make sure you understand your obligations and your opportunities. Unless otherwise negotiated, licenses are non-exclusive. Stock licenses, for example, are typically non-exclusive.

Creative Commons is the final important type of license to know, particularly because making your imagery available in this way can negatively affect your ability to sell your work. The Creative Commons is an organization that allows you to grant certain licensing rights to the public, meaning anyone can use your imagery. Although you can add restrictions, like use with attribution or editorial-use only, it’s important to remember that you will not be able license any rights you have made available to the public. 

You can use this chart to help you understand different types of use, which may affect how you restrict different types of licenses: 

Imagery used to sell or otherwise promote a product service or idea. 


Any kind of advertising  
Company blog or website 
PR materials 
Product packaging 
Imagery used only for educational or journalistic purposes. Does not apply to company blogs. 


News websites 
Photography commissioned or purchased for personal use 


Private events 
School portraits 
Greeting cards 

Source: American Society of Meeting Photographers

No matter how you license your imagery, it is also important to remember model releases and property releases any time your work features other people or private property. It’s also important to point out that some photographers you work with may also have some rights or may require a release for you to license out the images to a third party. Investing time to review your collaboration contracts, particularly around images rights and understanding common licenses and obligations, will allow you to focus more on creating gorgeous imagery and less on navigating the rules down the track. 

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