Advocating the use of a simple set of Terms & Conditions for photography reproduction licenses, whether it’s for “royalty-free” (RF) or “rights-managed” (RM) or so-called extended rights, is always beneficial to the publisher, and always detrimental to the photographer.
Your intentions are good. Regrettably, however, your conclusions about copyright are the consequence of an institutional memory loss.
Using a kindergarten set of terms and conditions for all transactions across the board, regardless of how complex any reproduction rights granted are expected to be, is the manifestation of a failure to acknowledge two marketplace segments with disparate prerogatives:
- It gives a windfall to the Consumer-to-Business segment (C2B/crowd-source)
- It grossly underserves the larger and more lucrative Business-to-Business segment (B2B/pro-source).
Photo reproduction licenses — and the licensing language that descibes each one (i.e., Terms & Conditions) — are complex and precise for good reason: rarely are any two transactions the same. Licensing language should be differentiated for each and every transaction.
The wrong question to ask is, How can I simplify the terms & conditions for licenses in general? The right question to ask is, How can I simplify the creation of individual complex licenses? There is a huge and substantive difference.
In other words, a publisher’s professional responsibility to closely read and understand a license should not be absolved. Instead, technology can—and should— be used as an alternative, to make it easy for photographers to create licensing language that describes the complex transactions they are presented with by publishers.
The methodology of for applying a one-size-fits-all—or even a three-sizes-fit-all—process to the licensing of publication rights works only for startups, shopkeepers, and freelancers, all looking for cheap photos to fill up their Web sites. It ignores the prerogatives of Enterprise-level publishers who have infinitely greater uses in mind; and it leaves the pro photographers who serve them out in the cold.
What has changed in the last 15 years or so is that, now, there is a difference between crowd-sourced content and pro-sourced content, in terms of how it is used (published) and how it is priced (licensed). The original pro-sourced marketplace need not be abandoned to serve only the crowd-sourced marketplace. That’s just not smart.
Technology can make the “Legalese” easy to compose (for photographers) and easy to understand (for publishers). Failure to make this distinction is self-defeating. It does not address or protect copyright prerogatives in the first place. In the end, it is harder for publishers to get the most bang for their buck; i.e., to find the photographers and the pictures they need to communicate with their own customers; small beans websites notwithstanding.