Selling Photos as Digital Downloads for Non-Commercial Use

Selling Photos as Digital Downloads for Non-Commercial Use

One of the cool features we released a few weeks ago with the Personal Archive is the ability to sell an image as an electronic personal use license via digital download. Why is this so cool?

From a technical standpoint it’s not. The mechanism allows you to sell (i.e. license) a digital download of an image whereby the pricing is based on the size of the download. Sounds a bit like Royalty-Free right?

That’s where the similarity ends.

Royalty-Free is designed as a commercial license, so the buyer can basically do whatever they want with the image. Clearly, most of us don’t want that happening.  If you shoot a wedding, and then offer the image under a royalty-free license, an unscrupulous buyer could appropriate the image for commercial purposes. Imagine the bride on a subway sign for a divorce lawyer. That wouldn’t do wonders for your wedding business.

On the other hand, if you’re only offering it up for personal use, the image is protected by the legal license that you offer to the buyer. And if an infringement occurs, you have a basis for suing. It also means you have a way to sell downloads at a different price point than the typical royalty-free image.

Here’s an example of the purchasing screen from Jason Kindig’s PA homepage.


Everyone talks about the death of print, and while we’re not about to concede that prints are dead, we definitely see an uptick in the use of digital imagery for personal purposes like on Facebook, desktop wallpapers, etc. The Electronic Personal Use license is a perfect way to offer a downloadable file to your clients through our simple-to-use cart interface.

So whether you shoot weddings, headshots, sports, etc, there’s probably a good reason to consider adding the personal use license to your arsenal of products.  

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 8 comments for this article
  1. David at 9:44 pm

    It’s a good idea, but I have a concern with the description of how someone can use a “small” image. If you grant someone a license to post one of your photos on a social networking site, you might be granting more than you realize. For example, this is currently in Facebook’s Terms of Use: “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.” Further down their T&C, they say that the grant expires if the user removes the content. But how does that square with the terms “irrevocable” and “perpetual”? Even if that makes sense in some way I don’t quite get, it still seems like a license worth more than 20 bucks. I’m sure other social networks probably have much worse terms. Is Photoshelter reading them all? Perhaps the personal license description should be reworded to say “non-transferable license for personal blogs, etc” or something like that, just to cover the photographer in case the person licensing the image isn’t familiar with their social network’s T&C and innocently posts it where they shouldn’t. Just a thought.

  2. Clair Dunn at 6:03 am

    Hi Allen — As I read that, I too immediately thought “well — where does it go after someone buys it for personal use — ?” I clearly agree with David and so this is definitely not an option I would ever use, no matter the price point. In a world where photographers are trying desperately to protect their work, this basically provides the untutored, unsuspecting newbie with a way to release their images with all the “unprotection” offered by RF. Clair

  3. Allen Murabayashi at 1:13 pm

    @Clair, Not sure that I agree with you. From a legal perspective, the personal use license affords the same type of protection as an RF license in that there is language that the user accepts upon purchase. You could sell a portrait as an RF, but that doesn’t preclude abuse of the image, and I would argue that selling it as RF gives the user more latitude to use the image in a variety of ways. The personal use license, by contrast, specifically states that you can’t use the image commercially nor make copies. The RF license has no such provision.

  4. at 4:37 am

    I like the idea of this, but have the same concerns as the posters above. And a suggestion, that your bulk automatic watermarking apply to these images on the downloaded files. I’ve already inquired about this and was told that I would have to apply the watermark myself, which is something I would rather not do. The watermark would provide an extra bit of protection and also promotion for the photographer.

  5. Forrest Smyth at 7:14 pm

    Allen – I’m confused. I note that you say “The personal use license, by contrast, specifically states that you can’t use the image commercially nor make copies.” In the example you use above there is an option for “Original Size – for full resolution printing”. This is obviously for the specific purpose on making copies, surely?

  6. Allen Murabayashi at 7:31 pm

    Forrest, I think it’s a semantic issue we’re dealing with. This license states that the licensor has: the right to possess, hold and use the Images(s) for personal, non-commercial purposes. Furthermore, you agree that you will: (i) not scan, copy, duplicate, distribute or otherwise reproduce the Images(s) Similar to how purchasing an album allows you duplicate it for personal use, but not distribute to your friends, or put on the internet, or combine with a multimedia piece, the intent of the personal use license is to allow you to sell an electronic license for the purposes of a single print, a screen saver, etc. If someone purchases the high-resolution file and then prints out 10 copies for everyone in the family, then I would agree that he/she is violating the spirit of the license. But the reality is that people do this any way irrespective of whether the file is digital or not. The intent of the electronic personal use license is to give the photographer another product to sell. We’ve heard from many photographers that print sales are declining, but clearly people are not disinterested in photos. The personal use license gives you a mechanism to deliver the file electronically, and just as importantly, it gives you a legal contract for a specific use. So if you sold a personal use license, and someone violated it (either through mass duplication or commercial use), you could chase after them if you chose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *