Normally, I limit my blog posts here to things dealing with iStockphoto or general stock imagery news.  However, today I became aware of a licensing “option” on another stock site that is either an idea badly implemented, or a bit of false advertising, designed to grab the buyer’s money.  Either way, buyer beware of the Dreamstime “SR-EL”, otherwise know as the “Sell the Rights Extended License”, in all of its variants.

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On a typical microstock licensing site, such as iStockphoto, Dreamstime, etc., the base “price” you pay for an image basically gets you a set of permissions on how you can use that image or piece of content.  If you want “extended” rights, you buy an “extended license” or “EL”, which can offer a variety of different extra permissions, like the ability to put the content on a t-shirt and sell it, or the right to print more than the standard license would allow.

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Several years ago, there were rumblings that iStockphoto was going to offer a new EL.  This would only be available for exclusive contributors to offer, and the license would be for varying periods of time, say 3 months, six months and a year.  The license would grant exclusive usage rights to the buyer for the offered contents, and it would only be available while the content had not been downloaded with a regular license.  As soon as someone else would license the content with a regular license, the “Exclusive Use” EL option would disappear.

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Makes sense, right?  Once downloaded by anyone else for the first time, the image usage can no longer be exclusively licensed to anyone.  That’s basically the point of RF – royalty free – licensing.  You pay for it initially, and all subsequent uses do not cost extra.  License it once, use it many times.  So, once the image “leaves the shelves” as it were, the contributor or agency cannot control usage within the license guidelines.  I can’t go back to previous buyers of an image and say “would you mind not using that anymore?”.  That is what RM – rights managed – licensing is for.  In some cases, it would allow a contributor to keep track of history and thus be able to guarantee exclusivity for future buyers.  iStockphoto, Dreamstime et al only offer traditional RF licensing.

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I don’t normally keep track of the details of what agencies other than iStockphoto are doing.  However, today DT (Dreamstime) unveiled some new pricing and licensing terms, and this was mentioned on the Microstockgroup forum.  Curious, I read the DT thread about the changes and followed the link to read about their new EL offerings.

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The new offerings appear to be time limited versions of their basic “SR-EL” or “Sell the Rights extended license”, which I am quoting below:

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This license represents a full ownership of the downloaded image. The buyer can use it exclusively (exclusivity applies from the moment that the file was downloaded using this license), and include it in any type of design with just a few restrictions: sensitive subjects may still apply and the buyer may not claim that the file was created by him nor resell it as a photo.

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The agency will disable the image immediately after the buyer acquired this license. The photographer is required to disable the file permanently from all other places where he may sell it, as soon as possible after the sale occured, but no longer than 72 hours. The photographer acknowledge and agrees to provide the buyer with full ownership for the file retrieved using the SR-EL license.

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I’ve never seen this before and it just comes across as something they put together without really thinking about it.  For instance, the license “represents a full ownership of the downloaded image”.  A transaction such as this should transfer all copyright and ownership to the buyer.  Yet, DT tries to tell the buyer what they can and cannot do with their purchase – ie., sell the photo.  However, once the buyer “owns” the content, they should be free to do with it what they want – even license it or sell it to someone else, with the copyright.  However, that is not really the issue here.

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The issue is that DT appears to be guaranteeing the buyer that the buyer will have exclusive usage rights of the image from that point on.  As in, “feel free to use this for your very special ad campaign, because you’ll be the only one using it”.  They even try to make this sound like what is going to happen by requiring the contributor “to disable the file permanently from all other places where he may sell it”.

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As we’ve previously discussed above, though, there is no way they can do this.  You realize how ridiculous this sounds now, right?

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For example, say you want to buy the rights on this piece of content.  You’ve got a new campaign and want to build it around this image, but only if no one else is using it.  So the “SR-EL” sounds great, right?  Well, firstly, look at that image’s detail page there.  It’s already been downloaded by 186 other buyers who are happily using it in their work.  I picked this particular image as well, because it is by top seller Yuri Arcurs, who offers his collection on many, many sites.   I used the service TinEye to search on this image, and it came up on 205 places online, including iStockphoto (and I’m sure other stock sites).  So, even if the contributor removed it from the other sites, it is still legally allowed to be used on those 205 sites, plus the hundreds of other places on and offline not found, and in the future work of all these designers.

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When you hover over the SR-EL link on the image page, it says:

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Full buyout of the content, images are wholly owned and can be modified and used exclusively in any type of design or product.

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I’m not even sure the DT admins understand what “exclusive” means.  A post on the forum says:

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The new limited licenses allow the same usages and have the same specifications as the regular Sell the rights license. The only difference is that they provide usage rights for a limited period of time. Instead of being lifetime granted, the exclusive usage is granted for one and three years. During this time, the images are withdrawn from all sale venues – as it works with the regular SR-EL. We have had the sell the rights license active and available on our site for four years now. And there have been very many sales of this type.

Now you know that all you are buying when you buy the SR-EL license, is that DT will attempt to stop further licensing of that content to anyone new, but there is no way they can guarantee you, the buyer, exclusive usage rights.  So, save your money, and hire a photographer or look for RM content if you need exclusivity for something.

added later:  As I thought some more about this, what they probably intended was more of an “all you can eat” EL – something that would allow the buyer unlimited reprints, no restrictions on items for resale, etc.  The “exclusive” thing is probably just a poorly worded way to describe the removal from the site.

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4 Responses to Save Your Money!

  1. Les Howard says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Sean. I had never seen any licensing terms like that.

  2. Hugo M says:

    Actually this critique is a bit misleading. What Dreamstime in fact does is enter into the RM market. The image is de facto exclusive since it has to be deactivated on all other sites within 24h (or 48?).

    The exclusivity only concerns future sales within a certain time frame. The scheme is exactly the same as with any image that has been offered RF for a while in the past, then offered RM.

    If a customer really wants a unique image with no previous sales history, he should commission a photographer for a wholly owned shoot. For many uses, this is just overkill and that’s why there is “stock”.

    • sjlocke says:

      While I’ve said before that you can offer an image as RM – with specific rights – after the image has already sold RF, I’ve also said there is no way to offer “exclusivity” in that case. There is no way to use the word “exclusive” in any sense of the word, in this case.

  3. Dave says:

    If an image has been sold RF previously, there is no way you can prevent it “being used” elsewhere, just because you have bought a special license on Dreamstime. You might be able to stop it being bought for the duration of the license by removing it from sale at other sites (although this is debateable given that some sites (i.e. Thinkstock, etc) it is very difficult to remove your images from and that is completely outside of your control) but you can’t stop previous purchased images being used.

    It is misleading a customer if you claim to be able to stop alternative usage of the image during the period of the EL.

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