Imagine you just bought a stock video clip under the Rights Managed license for which you want to use in several projects. At first, everything seems to go smoothly for the first advertisement, but you realize that you aren’t able to use the same footage in the second advertisement without having to incur additional expenses. Then, it hits you, you should have bought the stock footage under the Royalty-Free license.

When purchasing stock footage and video clips, there are three main types of licenses the buyer will come across – Rights Managed (RM), Editorial Use, and perhaps the more common one, Royalty-Free (RF). With the various rights and limitations that the licenses entail, things might get a little confusing, especially for beginners to stock footage. In order to avoid paying for licenses that doesn’t suit your needs, here’s what you need to know about each of the licenses.

Royalty-Free (RF)

Royalty-Free licenses are the polar opposite of Rights Managed licenses. Royalty-Free licenses often constitutes a one-time payment that allows the buyers the flexibility of using the clip in multiple productions over an unlimited period of time without incurring additional fees. The flexibility of using the clip in multiple productions means it is cost effective in the long run as the clip will pay for itself if it is used regularly.

Unlike Rights Managed licensed clips, Royalty-Free clips does not have any concern with the specifics of how the clip is being used, as the only factor that affects the pricing of the clip is the resolution size of the clip the buyer wants to purchase. For example, a student who only needs the video clip in standard definition resolution for his school project will have to pay lesser than a famous director who needs a high definition 1920×1080 resolution of the same clip for his new big budget movie.

Within the terms of the license, a Royalty-Free clip can be used however the buyer desires. Once the initial license fee is paid, the footage can be used in a local spot, a worldwide television broadcast, and even a feature film, with no additional costs. In addition to that, the buyer retains the right to use the footage in future projects as well. However, keep in mind that the clip still belongs to the original artist, which means buyers can’t resell the clip in its original form and claim it as their own.

Rights Managed (RM)

A Rights Managed license entitles the buyer to an exclusive, time-limited usage of the stock video clip. The licenses are granted on a pay-per-use basis, meaning the clip can only be used for one project, for a set period of time, and often only in certain geographical areas. The basic Rights Managed licensing allows for more than one customer to purchase and use the clip under the same license. However, there are also other Rights Managed clips that come with an exclusivity option, where buyers have to pay about 20-30% more but will technically ‘own’ the clip for the duration of their project and other buyers will not be able to purchase the video clip under the same license. The Rights Managed-Exclusive license is best when buyers want to be one-of-a-kind and prevent their competitors from having access to the same clip.

Due to the strict restrictions that accompanies a Rights Managed license, the buyer will be required to disclose the intended use of the video clip, the medium on which the clip will be displayed, the geographical location as well as the duration of use; which will then determine the final cost of the clip. For example, if the video clip is to be used in a local television advertisement spot for six months, the cost will be much lesser than if it was to be used in a global advertising campaign for one whole year.

Each Rights Managed video clip has a license unique to its own, and it specifically spells out the exact usage and exposure the clip can receive for the given fee. Once this pre-determined period of use ends, the buyer will then have the option of renewing the license, but any changes made to the usage of the clip will change the price of the license.

Editorial Use

When purchasing stock footage, you may also come across some files that are marked with an “Editorial-Only” or “Editorial Use” disclaimer. Video clips with this licensing are very limited in the types of projects they may be used in. Strictly forbidden from being used in video productions for commercial purposes, the best scenarios for using editorial footage are as part of a documentary, news or editorial pieces; and the costs incurred for buying Editorial-Only clips are usually lesser than Rights Managed or Royalty-Free clips.

Editorial usage rights are granted with strict restrictions on usage, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use, and geographic distribution, much like Rights Managed licensing. Additionally, other agencies may also limit the amount of editing the buyers can do to an editorial clip. What this means is that the clips cannot go through any sort of post production editing – cropping, color correcting or manipulation of the content in the clip – that may change the clip’s original meaning.

Also, using editorial footage in projects may be tricky as only the filmmakers can determine if their project can use files that do not have full clearance, as stock footage agencies do not obtain the clearances on behalf of the filmmakers. However, in most cases where the clearances cannot be obtained, digitally obscuring identifiable elements from the clip will be sufficient. Digitally obscuring involves blurring out any words or images from the clip or elements from the clip so that it doesn’t seem to have any reference to any specific brand, person or place anymore.

As a buyer of stock media, it is important to know and understand the various licenses you’ll come across to make sure you’re purchasing the right ones for your video productions without paying extra for something you don’t need or paying or something that doesn’t cover what is needed specifically for your project. However, it is important to note that as specifics may vary from company to company, the rights and restrictions to how the stock footage can be used may differ. Therefore, always remember to read each site’s agreements and license policies carefully before purchasing the clip.

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