01 Jun 2012 Extended Licenses

Like everything in microstock, it’s complicated.   But understanding the complex world of microstock’s Extended Licenses, or ELs, is crucial for microstockers. Not only to know what rights we’re selling, but to evaluate new microstock agencies and make all our distribution decisions informed.

So let’s take a closer look.

What is an Extended License?

Extended Licenses enable microstock customers to purchase more rights than what is granted in the standard license.

As the microstock business model emerged, it was believed that most photo buyers didn’t need all the rights provided by Royalty Free licenses of traditional stock photo agencies. So the heavier rights were removed from the standard license and made available separately, via an Extended License.

Common Extended Licenses

The Extended License is now a staple of the microstock business model, in use by all microstock agencies.   While the details always vary from agency to agency, there are three common types of extended license:

Unlimited Print Run

Also known as Unlimited Reproductions, this right is something most photo buyers don’t need as they don’t print hundreds of thousands of copies. So these rights are not included in the standard license but available via Extended License for those who need them.

Items for Resale

It’s also not common for photo buyers to print a stock photo on a physical item for resale, or include it in an electronic item for resale (such as web templates). So microstock customers wanting these rights need to purchase an Items for Resale license.

Unlimited Seats

Storing an image on a network server where it’s available for more than one person to access is another right that’s not common among most photo buyers.   While some microstock agencies include this in the standard license – and some don’t offer it at all – it is separated out into an extended license at most microstock agencies.

Extended Licenses Compared

Agency Unlimited Print Run Items for Resale Unlimited Seats
Price Royalty Run Limit Price Royalty Price Royalty
iStockphoto 130 – 370 20 – 167 500,000 130 – 370 20 – 167 78 – 231 12 – 104
Shutterstock 68 – 100 28 250,000 68 – 100 28 Not available at all
Fotolia In standard license 7 – 130 4 – 63 In standard license
Dreamstime 210 – 250 12 – 37 500,000* 210 – 250 12 – 37 105 – 125 6 – 19
BigStock In standard license* 49 – 99 25 Not available at all
123RF In standard license* 68 – 100 34 – 50 20 – 30* 10 – 15
Veer 78 – 135 35 500,000 97 – 174 44 39 – 67 17
Crestock 50 10 – 20 500,000 50 10 – 20 50 10 – 20
Photaki In standard license 70 35 In standard license

All prices and royalties in this table are in USD, calculated from the minimum and maximum of prices and credit values, and including collections and exclusivity variations.

Note that the Run Limit is the limit of the standard license. Purchasing the Unlimited Print Run extended license removes that limit.

*It’s Complicated

Here’s some exceptions, variations and caveats for the data in the above table:

  • Shutterstock is the only agency that requires an extended license to display an image in a home or place of business.
  • Dreamstime’s extended license increases the print run limit to 2.5 million, not unlimited.
  • BigStock’s standard license allows unlimited copies only if the image is “not the primary focus of the design”.
  • 123RF’s regular license includes unlimited print runs except for editorial uses, which are limited to 250,000. Their unlimited seats license requires a standard or extended license be purchased separately. They are the only agency that prices differently for electronic and physical Items for Resale extended licenses (their combined version was used in the comparison table), though other agencies distinguish with separate licenses (but at the same price).
  • Crestock’s extended licenses cannot be purchased via the website. Customers must contact the company by email and wait for a reply.

Optional Participation? Sometimes

Some agencies offer contributors the opportunity to opt-out of offering Extended Licenses.

Shutterstock and Fotolia both provide opt-outs for Extended Licenses, Shutterstock for your entire portfolio, and Fotolia image by image.   Dreamstime allows you to opt-out of the Items for Resale extended license only.   iStockphoto’s opt-out vanished in one of the recent re-designs.   123RF, Veer and Crestock don’t have opt-outs at all.

Why might you want to opt out of Extended License sales when they represent such an earning potential above standard license royalties?

Well, some microstockers feel that the rights available via Extended Licenses are too great relative to the royalty commission they generate.   However, most agencies report that only a small portion of contributors opt-out.

Note: this is an update and extension of the original blog post of 20 August, 2007.

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