Ask the VR Photography Experts

Q: Is it OK to take the images that you’ve created for one client and to sell (or “license” them to someone else? For example, if I’ve shot photos or object movies for a local plumber or plumbing supply house, can I sell them elsewhere later? If so, how does the client who paid for the work originally feel?

A: Unless there is a specific clause in your contract with the original client specifying exclusivity of some sort, or that the subject is proprietary to that client, then the photographer will generally be free to license his/her work to other clients as stock imagery afterward. This assumes that the photographer is neither an employee of the original client nor has signed a work for hire agreement that transfers ownership of the copyright to the client.

In most corporate situations, the initial client will not want to see the work they have contracted you for appear in another company's media before they've used it themselves. Thus, there is almost always an embargo period (whether written or implied) limiting your licensing of the images elsewhere until after the original client has first published them.

This is not always the case (it may be to the advantage of the original client for you to license the work elsewhere because it provides added visibility and promotion of their facilities/products, etc.). However, it is critical to make this clear up front. If you value your clients (and we all should), you don't want to do anything that will negatively surprise them or cause them problems. This is also why you make sure you have a complete written agreement spelling out all these details before ever starting the work.

If you have been hired by one client to do a job, you should NEVER license that same work to one of their direct competitors. Few things will destroy your professional reputation faster. If there's ever any doubt, pick up the phone and call your original client. If they say it's fine with them, then you can make the sale. However, most of the time, you'll know the answer before you ever call. If there's a doubt, simply decline to license the image(s) to the subsequent client(s).

In the example of your plumbing company, I suspect that if they paid you to create the images of their parts and tools, they'd be pretty upset to see that you'd sold those images to one of their competitors to compete directly with them. However, if the images were being used by the local plumbers' union to help generate work and sales for everyone, there might not be a problem. In either case, because the second client is in the same industry, you'd want to contact the original client for consent before making the subsequent sale.

If the subsequent license was made to a client in a completely unrelated industry, such as an ISP offering broadband (bigger pipe) services, there shouldn't be a problem (unless you granted the original client complete exclusivity to the images for a given term).

Bottom line is to use common sense. Put yourself in your client's position. If in doubt, give them a call to make sure you're not creating a problem for them. And absolutely make sure that all restrictions and limitations are spelled out in writing and agreed to BEFORE creating the work in the first place.

- Scott Highton