Copyright for Visual Artists

Your artwork has value. Know your rights.

Why Visual Artists Need to Understand Liscensing

" ...a photographer had a stock image that a pharmaceutical company wanted very badly... The photographer made a demand to license this stock image to a pharmaceutical company for $1.8 million for a usage period of less than two years." ...and the company accepted the terms. 2.

Build a Website in 30 minutes. Try Free, Click Here.


When an artist grants a customer or client the temporary right to publish, copy, distribute or use their image in return for payment, this is called licensing. Solid licensing agreements allow an artist to profit financially from their image above and beyond what they would get by simply selling the image to a customer through an art gallery. It is a great way for artists to make a good living and benefit from their labour and talent. Painters and fine artists have been slow to grasp the concept of licensing but business savvy photographers have been licensing their images for years. The story below will convince you of the necessity of licensing your images.

A generic example of a licensing agreement is included below, for educational purposes only. If you need a proper image licensing agreement for your own usage, please see a lawyer.

Why you Should License Your Images

"When an artist grants a customer or client the temporary right to publish, copy, distribute or use their image in return for payment, this is called licensing."

This is a fantastic story from photographer Jeff Sedlik about licensing images from the website. It shows the immense value of behaving in a businesslike manner and believing in the value of your own work. He says that we must be aware that our work has value and we should always think in terms of what value the work has to the client.

" ... I got some books on negotiation and on business and I didn't give my rights away. I carefully licensed it and when a client would come to me and say we need all the rights, we don't have a lot of money - which is pretty much every single call when you pick up the phone - I would spend as much time as I could carefully backing them down off of that unlimited rights thing. I would explain to them that they don't need the unlimited rights and back them down onto the rights that they need."1.

He describes a simple photography shoot he did for a major bank. The license permitted them one specific use. The image was so popular the client returned with a request for a different usage, which he sold to them separately. The company returned four different times to purchase four individual licenses, which was very lucrative for the photographer.

" All told the 4 shots, almost $100,000.00 and these were head shots with just flash over the camera because they wanted them to look like passport photos. I could have just given it away right there because ... the shots were nothing to me. They meant nothing to me, but instead I took a deep breath and said I'll license you the rights that you need and as a result it brought in money"3.

Return to top of page

Example of an Image License Agreement

This is a generic example of an image license for educational purposes only. Since business agreements between artists and clients vary widely with regards to local laws, terms and situations, you should consult a lawyer to prepare your own proper image licensing agreement.

Agreement to License an Image

Name of Artist: [Insert name of artist]
(Hereinafter referred to as "the artist")

Mailing address: [Insert mailing address]
Postal Code: [Insert postal code]
Phone number(s): [Insert phone number(s)]
E-mail(s): [Insert E-mail(s)]
Fax: [Insert fax]

Name of Client: [Insert name of client]
(Hereinafter referred to as "the licensee")

Mailing address: [Insert mailing address]
Postal Code: [Insert postal code]
Phone number(s): [Insert phone number(s)]
E-mail(s): [Insert E-mail(s)]
Fax: [Insert fax]

Title of Image: [Insert title of image]

Date created: [Insert date created]

Artist: [Insert name of artist]

Name of person who owns the copyright to this image: [Insert name of rights holder]

Identifying information: [Insert identifying information such as size,dimensions, media used, where created, brief description of image, (example: "painting of a blue house with a maple tree"]


The artist grants the licensee the [exclusive or non-exclusive], non-transferable and non-assignable use of [insert title of image] (the image described above) for the period of [insert detailed time limitations and date of expiry] for the purpose of [insert a clear and specific desciption of what, where, when and how the licensee is permitted to use the image. For example: "usage in the client's billboards in the Metro area until the date of expiry of this agreement", or "usage in the client's web advertisements only, not print publications, until the date of expiry of this agreement"].


The amount of amount of $_______, is to be paid immediately upon receipt of the image.


[Include any additional limitations and/or provisions regarding the use of the image. See examples below.]

The artist retains all copyright and moral rights attached to this image as well as any other rights which may not be detailed in this agreement.

Credit/Acknowledgement of the artist's name and website URL [insert web URL here] must be given when the image is published, either with a picture credit, caption or a link/acknowledgement in the publication if the image is used for editorial purposes (newspapers, magazines, newsletters, web or print publications, etc...).

Selling and/or redistribution of this image is forbidden.

Licensee [is/is not] allowed to crop and/or electronically alter the image to suit their purposes for the usage stated above. [explain in detail what the licensee is allowed to do or not do with your image.]


The Licensee indemnifies and holds harmless [insert name of artist] against all claims, liability, damages, costs and expenses stemming from a breach of this agreement, the use of the image, your failure to abide by any restriction regarding the use of an image, or any claim by a third party related to the use of the image.

Warranty and Liability:

This image is provided "as is" with no warranty regarding the suitability of the image for any purpose. The artist is not liable to the client or any person or entity for damages, costs or losses stemming from any usage of this image.

Return to top of page



These pages are for educational purposes only. This site offers a combination of fact, anecdotal information and editorial opinion of the writer, none of which should be construed as legal advice. If you require legal assistance on any aspect of copyright law, please contact a lawyer.