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The Plus Coalition
Will This Organization Change the Future of Our Industry?


Plus Coalition

A rose by any other name is still a rose—unless you’re trying to negotiate the usage rights of a photograph of that rose. Then the meaning becomes cloudy and can be misinterpreted. Photographers and art buyers alike have been struggling for years to understand and agree upon the definitions associated with image usage rights, and to clearly define the boundaries of image licenses described in their estimates, invoices, purchase orders and other licensing agreements.

Images and other forms of intellectual property have become the currency of the 21st century. In the Picture Licensing Industry, negotiating and managing licensing transactions is the basis of commerce, and is critical to the ultimate success of all its partners—artists, art buyers, art directors, designers, publishers, stock agents, artist reps, and anyone who works in the world of art, graphics, and photography. Licensees and licensors alike would benefit from standardization of licensing language and clearly defined categories of picture uses.

Despite the critical importance of image licensing in all of these industries, the language of licensing has remained vaguely defined, with various organizations and companies offering their own definitions of terms and criteria.

This lack of “universal” definitions and licensing criteria has led to confusion in the marketplace, skepticism among customers, and ultimately, to legal disputes. As a result, many customers have migrated from limited licensing, and now routinely seek unlimited licenses or copyright ownership, without a commensurate increase in fees paid to the artist.

Enter the PLUS Coalition, an international non-profit consortium of professionals, trade associations, and leading companies representing every aspect of the imaging and image usage world.

The PLUS Coalition has created the Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS), a system of image licensing standards designed to simplify and facilitate image licensing. The world’s first image licensing standard, the Universal Picture Licensing Glossary is a comprehensive, free resource that provides definitions of all the words and phrases used in image licensing. It’s important to note that the PLUS Glossary was created with the participation of a broad spectrum of industry stakeholders, and was approved by the PLUS board of directors, a neutral body with balanced representation for all industry sectors involved in making and using images.

A Focused Mission

PLUS and its system of international industry standards was an idea waiting to happen. Then Jeff Sedlik, a noted photographer and former national president of the Advertising Photographers of America (APA), approached and by Jeffrey Burke, then vice president of the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA) and president of the PictureArts stock agency, and proposed that they team up and lead an effort to create international image licensing standards. The two Jeffs agreed that standardization would help the image licensing industries leverage technological advances and to operate more efficiently in an increasingly global marketplace.

They went on to found a non-profit organization with a focused mission: “to simplify and facilitate the licensing of images.” Sedlik now serves as the Coalition’s president and CEO, while Burke serves as chairman of the Plus board of directors. Today, PLUS is developing a system of standards designed to make the licensing process easier for photographers as well as art buyers, graphic designers, artists’ reps, publishers, and stock agencies—whether they’re in the business for 30 years or just graduated from art school yesterday.

Picture creation and licensing is estimated to be a $6 billion industry worldwide, yet it operates without standardized licensing terminology, definitions or image-use classifications. By standardizing the language and classifications used by all parties in licensing images, licensees and licensors benefit significantly. This mutual understanding is key to avoiding unintentional misuse, reducing liability and maintaining business relationships.

Jigisha Bouverat, director of art buying at TWBA/Chiat/Day and a member of the PLUS Art Buyers’ Committee, says, “As art buyers and art producers in the advertising industry, we do our best to manage rights and use correct usage terms and language.

The problem is there is no set standard, so the terms are left to interpretation. Without an industry standard, the process of due diligence varies from agency to agency, which creates a liability for the agency, the client and the artist. A standardized usage system will assist all art buyers and art producers with rights management.”

The Challenge of Rights-Managed Licensing

The most prevalent form of picture licensing involves the granting of specific usage rights by a licensor, e.g., a photographer or stock agency, to a licensee, e.g., an ad agency, design firm or publisher. In exchange for payment of a licensing fee, the licensee acquires the right to use an assignment or stock image for one or more clearly defined, limited uses such as advertising in consumer magazines, outdoor billboards, or point-of-sale. Licensors typically specify the duration or length of time that an image can be used, and may also limit the size of reproduction, number of copies that may be made, geographic region where copies may be distributed, and other parameters. This manner of image licensing is commonly referred to as Rights Managed (RM) licensing.

Rights-Managed licensing presents a number of challenges for licensors and their customers. Professional art buyers, the primary customers for image licenses, are constantly confronted with wide disparities between licensing terms and methods used by various photographers, illustrators, artist reps and stock agencies. When multiple vendors use different definitions and usage classifications, it’s difficult for art buyers to understand license proposals and to accurately compare fees.

In sharp contrast to Rights Managed licensing, the Royalty-Free (RF) licensing model allows customers to use photographs for any purpose, in unlimited media and for an unlimited time period for a flat fee. Royalty-Free licensing has gained broad acceptance among customers, and has significantly reduced the demand for Rights Managed licenses of assignment and stock photography. Given the state of the picture licensing industry and the rise of Royalty Free licensing, the future of Rights-Managed licensing may depend upon broad acceptance of PLUS standards.

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