Understanding Usage Licensing & Copyright

March 24, 2022
Seb user profile

By Sebastian Lopez

Copyright and licensing are some of the most important elements of purchasing any sort of creative services, especially when pertaining to commercial use such as in Real Estate photography, video, and design. In Canada, creators by default own the copyright to their intellectual property work, be it a photo, video, song, poem, or doodle. Therefore it is critical to obtain a “usage license” for any assets or “work” you purchase. In this article we will look into what copyright is, how it works, and how to prevent intellectual property disputes from happening.

For the most part, GVA Home Tours includes what most realtors will need for the purposes of a listing. All of our photo and video services come with a limited usage license for the purposes of a sale of a home. However, if you plan on doing a Vancouver wide mail out campaign, or brokerage magazine, this is when you definitely want to make sure you acquire the necessary license for the work you are wanting to use. 

This is normally a pretty quick negotiation with an additional fee to reflect the use. There may be limitations to the license as we want to make sure we are providing you with a great rate and that you aren’t paying for something you may never need. This is why larger companies like brokerages or real estate teams often pay more; Their reach, profitability, and liability of the project is in many cases much greater than a single realtor focused on one neighborhood.

Let’s get one thing clear: You don’t need to hold the copyright in order to use the work. What you need is to understand what you are allowed to do with the license assigned to you by the artist, in this case us.

Some of you might be thinking “I have hired many photographers and have never had to deal with this! I just pay once and that’s it!” While that may be true, it is important to understand that many contractors may not be fully aware of the laws surrounding the products they provide. This means you are likely not protected for the usage of those images. This means that you could run into copyright infringement should that photographer change their mind about how and where you are allowed to use the images. This  is why GVA Home Tours puts contracts in place; we do it for everyone’s protection and security. If there is no contract or mention of a usage license, you might want to reconsider who you are hiring as there is a large gap in their knowledge and professionalism.

We know it can be tricky to understand the world of intellectual property so we have compiled some information below to help you understand the common variables included in licensing work you’ve purchased. This is applicable for hiring a freelance photographer, marketing agency like GVA Home Tours, or purchasing stock photography online. Please be sure to understand these details as it is critical to making sure you are protected and using your budget appropriately.

What is a Copyright in Canada?

As defined by the Government of Canada: “Copyright is the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work.” The creator of a work is typically the owner, unless the creator is an employee under contract or there is another agreement in place to otherwise assign ownership of the copyright.

Understanding the Terms and the Variables

To understand usage rights, there are three key terms you need to be familiar with. Each of these terms will change the cost of your license from the low end to high end.

  1. Buyout (Transfer of Copyright) 

You pay a one-time fee to buy out the full rights to the work. This means that the copyright is being transferred to you and we, the agency, would no longer be able to use, display, or sell the use of this image moving forward. We would need to have permission from you to use the image in our porwebsite or social media. Buyout is the most expensive way of acquiring usage rights for an image.

  1. Exclusive vs Non-Exclusive Use

Exclusive: Exclusive use is when you purchase the right to be the sole user of the work. This means the image will not be used by anyone other than you, the original buyer, and us the Agency. However, our use would be limited to a portfolio and general marketing materials. Because of the nature of exclusivity, this is often a costly and unnecessary method of acquiring usage rights for an image.

Non-Exclusive: Non-exclusive means that you, the buyer, has the right to use the work but, we, the agency, maintain the right to relicense the image to other parties for various uses. This is common in Real Estate photography where multiple parties are involved such as realtors, builders, contractors and property managers.

  1. Limited vs unlimited

Limited: A limited license normally contains limits in the scope of use you may make of intellectual property (geographical or in type of use), in the extent to which it can be sublicensed, in the people who may use it pursuant to the license, and/or in the duration during which one may use it. Most licenses for intellectual property such as those granted by GVA Home Tours are limited.

Unlimited: An unlimited license (which is very rare) would be a right to use intellectual property work without limitation in the same manner as a true owner of the intellectual property rights in question.

Other Variables Involved in Image Licenses

Like many legal documents, the terms and conditions will vary drastically. Here is a list of other common factors that may be involved in your image license:

  1. Where the work can be used:

This can be restricted to the city of Vancouver, province of BC, Canada,, or worldwide. This causes the pricing to fluctuate and is determined based on the reach and potential to make an income from the content.

  1. How the work can be used:

Terms like digital, print, website/portfolio, social media, and listing materials will be included in the license to explain in what marketing or advertising space the work can be used on. 

Penalties of Copyright Infringement

Many of you may be hesitant about entering agreements with licensing restrictions. We get it, you are likely worried about an accidental infringement or not being able to use the work in a particular way. It is always best to ask when you are unsure when it comes to copyright and licensing. In most cases, a simple email can help resolve questions. 

The penalties for copyright infringement are in place for those who are stealing. The penalties can be pretty severe including massive fines, legal fees, and in some cases jail time. This can be easily avoided by being upfront and honest about what your needs are, and thinking ahead on how you plan on using the work.. 

We know sometimes people think leaving out specific details will help reduce the cost of a project. If you think something is going to be out of your budget range, it is best to be upfront about it. We believe that honesty and communication are the foundation of a healthy business relationship. Money is not the main reason we do what we do, it is only an important factor in the survival and growth of our team.

You can read more about penalties on the Government of Canada Website 

Honesty always wins

In all aspects of life, honesty will get you where you need to go and in the process, you get to celebrate success with everyone you’ve worked with. Intellectual property and copyright is a very important part of every artist’s and realtor’s life and is a critical part of allowing GVA Home Tours to do what we do best- helping you grow your real estate business.

Without each other, there would be no purpose to anything, so let’s stick together and support each other and our fellow creators.

Thanks for taking the time to learn with GVA Home Tours. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Click here to schedule your next listing with us!

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