Usage rights: Are they Past Their Sell-by Date?

Posted by: Fiona Barber - 07.07.22

Usage Rights

Every year brands spend ever-shrinking budgets on commissioning content they don’t own. Isn’t that nuts? 

You pay a photographer to take a photograph for you; you’ve paid for their time and for everything in that picture – but they dictate how long you can borrow the picture for and where you can put it. It is a mad way of thinking when you put it that way.

Ben White, Ride Shotgun Production Director

Usually, the more control you want over how to use your content, the more you will likely end up paying. This is a particularly expensive problem for global brands looking to utilise their content in multiple countries.

In the world of usage rights, it’s the way things have always been done. But as they say, some traditions are made to be broken, right?

The industry is changing and content marketing is moving faster than most brands can keep up. But if you’re investing time and money in creating compelling content, you need to make sure you’re legally able to use it exactly how you’d like.

What are usage rights?

Under the law, ownership for creative content such as photography and videography is retained by the content creator or advertising agency and licensed out. There’s usually an option to extend or renew licensing agreements for an additional fee.

Usage rights define:

  • Who owns the content
  • How long it can be used for 
  • Which countries it can be used in 
  • Which channels it can be used on.

How a digital-first world is affecting usage rights

Nowadays brands have the ability to connect and engage with their consumers on another level.

People are watching more video online than ever before – in fact, the amount of online videos they watch has almost doubled since 2018.

Once content is released as part of a digital campaign it’s out there for all to see. While brands can’t legally post content once their usage licence has expired, they can reshare what’s already live, and their followers can share and engage with the content.

Although usage rights function adequately in print media, a digital-first world creates a grey area more tricky to navigate and effectively makes restrictive usage rights redundant.

While content-hungry audiences demand more from brands to keep them engaged marketing budgets continue to be slashed. Marketers simply don’t have the money to spend on usage rights like they once did. 

Add into the mix the growth of short-form video content and it’s impossible for brands to afford the production and usage rights of endless pieces of quick turnaround, ‘throwaway’ content.

Time for a change

Securing content ownership isn’t always easy but is entirely possible with the right approach and a dash of boldness. Producers need to work hard to negotiate full usage rights with model agencies and take a flexible approach to explore different ways of working such as employing casting directors for street castings. 

Gaining full usage rights isn’t about ripping people off or trying to cut corners. It’s simply that the industry is changing and usage rights need to keep up. The people who love to produce great work get paid fairly to do what they do best, and brands can build their brand, sell their products and fulfil their audience’s content needs without busting budgets.

Our top 3 tips to save on usage rights 

1. Look for a production partner that has in-house teams and owns studio space

While many production companies predominantly use freelancers to deliver projects, having a purpose-built team (alongside a trusted bank of freelancers to call upon when needed) gives more flexibility and control.

2. Negotiate hard

It’s not always easy, but don’t take what you’re told about restrictive usage rights at face value. Owning your content is possible, it just takes an agency with nibble negotiating skills that’s willing to fight to give you greater value.

3. ‘Sunset’ older content with usage attached

Many brands have central content hubs that have usage attached to the assets. Take some time to check whether you really need that content; Is the product still being sold? Are your colleagues still promoting it? Do you have content on your channels you are paying unnecessarily for? Beware – there are companies dedicated to finding content that is unlicensed or has lapsed usage online! It might actually be cheaper to reshoot or recreate rather than pay above the odds.

Ready to take control of your content?

Every single photo and video we produce for our clients is owned by our clients – as standard. Use your content where you like, when you like, for as long as you like.

We have a 30,000 sq ft of studio space in Leeds and a production hub in sunny Portugal. Our in-house set building and styling teams can craft any style or scale of set from contemporary interiors to the weird and wonderful.

Find out more about how we produce to perfection