Machine Readable Licensing Lingo for Photos

I have to apologize for falling down on the job in my contributing to Slaw since my inclusion among the exalted Slawyers a few weeks ago. I have to confess I’ve been distracted by a combination of being busy at work and rediscovering a passion for photography. (You can check out some of my recent work on my site or on Flickr.)

I find it interesting that regularly taking photos changes the way you look at things. Colours, shadows, textures and perspectives stand out a lot more than they used to. Everyone walks around with particular filters affecting their perceptions. Every scene is a potential photo and every situation has a legal aspect. The law is everywhere and combining the two has made me more aware of legal issues for photographers. (I suppose it’s a mental version of “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”)

If you hang out on Flickr or in other photography communities, you’ll notice a lot of discussion about intellectual property rights. While most of the discourse related to copyright in the past little while has revolved around music, it’s interesting to listen to photographers. Unlike most recording artists and musicians, photographers create and market their own content directly. Other than some large stock agencies, there is no analogue to the record companies who lobby on their behalf and become the face of the content creators. Unauthorized copying of works seems to be more personal to photographers than I’ve heard musicians speak of unauthorized song downloads.

The IP needs of photographers are unique. Most are amateurs licensing photos on the side or are small businesses. They don’t have the time, energy or cash to negotiate individual licenses or even seek out legal advice. I am not surprised to see that a huge number of amateur photographers have bought into the Creative Commons system of making some rights available to the world at large. The different CC licenses are a bit of a lingua franca and content creators are able to mix and match different permissible uses, from “some rights reserved” to dedicated to the public domain. While CC generally focuses on non-commercial use of intellectual property, photographers have developed a very interesting scheme of articulating and embedding IP rights and licensing schemes, similar to INCOTERMS which may be more familiar to most lawyers.

The PLUS Coalition is a non-profit association that has developed the Picture Licensing Universal System. Unlike the CC system, the PLUS system is much more granular in expressing how an image may be used, by whom, for how long and in what format. For example, the PAPA family of licenses deals with print advertising:

Use in any print advertising in a magazine, newspaper, directory, insert or program. Applies to a specified end user product or service.

  • Duration,
  • PLUS Region,
  • Region Constraints,
  • PLUS Industry,
  • End User,
  • Product or Service Name,
  • License Start Date

The PLUS system creates a machine readable license and offers software to translate this:


into this:

Term Value
Standard PLUS
LDF Version 1.20
# of Media Usages 1

Usage # A
Media Matrix: Advertising | Periodicals | Magazine (Consumer Magazine) | Printed
Placement: Multiple Placements on Any Interior Pages
Size: Up To Full Page Image | Up To Full Page Ad
Version: Single Version
Quantity: Up To 2 Million Total Circulation
Duration: Up To 1 Year
Region(s): Northern America | USA
Industry(ies): Airline Transportation
Language(s): English
Exclusivity: Non-Exclusive

While I’m not sure that many lawyers will have an immediate use for the PLUS Service, I would suggest that lawyers with any IP licensing practice check it out. It contains a wealth of information and the glossary of licensing terminology is a great resource.

Comments are closed.