Choosing licences and releases

There are strict rules concerning who and what may be photographed, and about the ownership and licensing of photographs. Whilst you might disagree with those rules, it is our responsibility to let you know about them, and to ensure that Critical Information Collective's image library does not contravene them - we want to continue providing these resources!

We can only provide you with general information however, because laws differ in different parts of the world. The law we operate under is that of England and Wales (please see our Terms and Conditions page for more details). Please make sure you check for any additional rules that might apply to you in your country.

What can and can't be photographed

In theory, of course, anything and anyone can be photographed, but...

  • Ethical Guidelines should apply when photographing people

There are cultural sensitivities and important ethical concerns that apply when taking photographs of people. Please see our 'Ethical Guidelines' page for more details about this. We ask all participating photographers to respect these guidelines, and we reserve the right to reject images if we think they do not comply.

Model and property releases may be required

If you plan to sell images for commercial use you must have 'model release' forms signed by any people that can be identified within the photograph. In some jurisdictions, such as in the United States, you may also be required to provide signed 'property release' forms for commercial images of property such as specific buildings. If you are shooting on private property you are generally required to have permission from the property owner.

If your photographs are for non-commercial or editorial use however — meaing that they are for informational or educational purposes or generally in the public interest — the rule on model releases does not apply. However, it is still very much encouraged for ethical reasons — again, please see our 'Ethical Guidelines' page for more information.

A key rule of thumb is not to use an image if someone has asked you not to. Also to consider whether the people in the photograph will be happy with the use that the photograph is being put to. If so they are unlikely to challenge that use. But this in turn means that photographers need to be able to control the use of their photographs, which is where copyright and licensing comes in (see below). You can find an informative article about photojournalism and model/property releases here.

Another crunch issue is taking photographs of company logos. Critical Information Collective exists to expose the way in which corporate globalisation impacts people and their environment, so we do want to focus on corporations. But photographing company logos in a way that could be considered defamatory is likely to cause legal problems. Ideally, shots of company logos and similar should be straightforward objective shots — it is simply easier if the story is explained in text rather than the images. However, if you have a great shot that might be problematic legally speaking, we will try to get legal advice on whether or not we can upload it to the site.

Licences and credits

Copyright and associated 'moral rights' give photographers various rights over their photographs and what they are used for. Licences are the tools used to control that usage. 

Although it is possible for photographers to take and share photographs without keeping the copyright over their images, we don't recommend this. Firstly, a good quality photograph is not simply a documentary 'snap shot'. It may involve a great deal of skill on the part of the photographer in terms of selecting, investigating and recording information about the subject of the photograph, and in terms of composition, creative flair and technical ability. A good photograph is created by the photographer, rather than 'taken'.

Secondly, the copyright gives you the right to choose a licence and define how your image may be used. You can, for example, provide photographs which can be used for free, provided they are not used for profit-making commercial purposes. Or you can prevent others from downloading and manipulating your image and possibly distorting or subverting its meaning in the process. It is important to note that there is a legal requirement on all media buyers using this site, including Civil Society Members (CSMs), to respect these licences, even if the images have been downloaded for free.

There are a number of different licences photographers can choose from:

  • Royalty Free (RF)

'Royalty Free' licences confuse many people who are not familiar with licensing, because they sound like they should be free, but they aren't! In fact the RF licence is used to authorise the use of a copyrighted image multiple times without having to pay royalties for each separate use. The RF fee is usually quite modest. However, it is very important to note that on this site we ask all participating photographers who want to use the RF licence (to sell to media, for example) to allow our registered CSMs to download RF images for free. Please note we do charge a 50% commission on RF licence fees (as is standard practice in image libraries), but we are a not-for-profit organisation and this helps us to run the site!

  • Creative Commons (CC)

Creative Commons licences are a set of licences that allow photographers and others to share their works freely, but still control their use. A photographer can choose from a number of options including whether their work can be modified; whether modified work has to carry the same licence; whether commerical use is permitted; and what jurisdiction the licence comes under. You can see the different combinations that are possible here

  • Creative Commons Public Domain Option (CC0)

For those who really do want to waive all rights over their photographs and how they are used, creative commons also provides a public domain option. You can find out more about 'CC0' here. However, as explaineda bove, we do not recommend this option.

  • Rights Managed (RM)

Right Managed licences allow photographers to licence individual uses of their images. This is traditionally how a professional photographer makes a living. RM images can be provided on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis (in other words, the user may or may not be the only user of the image in question).

There is no requirement for photographers using this site to provide their RM images to CSM members for free, although they may if they wish to. 

Please note we do not have an automated system in place for RM licences at present (this is because we are using software that was designed with simpler objectives in mind!). If you are a media buyer, you need to use the 'Request a Quote' icon just above the image to request a quote from the photographer.

Again please note we generally charge a 50% commission on RM licence fees, but we are a not-for-profit organisation and this helps us to run the site!

Captions and credits

All images should be uploaded with a title and a description of the content of the photograph (which may also include any caption you would like used), and a credit stating who the photograph was taken by. This information can be provided on upload, or provided by embedding it in the image's IPTC data (for more information about IPTC data see here.)

All editorial images must always be displayed with a credit – the name of the photographer, agency and website (eg Critical Information Collective) that the photograph was sourced from.