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Understanding Video Licensing

By: Lydia Bird

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In a digital era where everyone can create and distribute media, the rules of engagement between the media industry and individuals seem ever more confusing. From creating high quality TV shows to seeing your home videos featured online, what are the rules of media ownership and who is allowed to do what? What is free to use, under what circumstances – and when do you need a license?  This blog post will attempt to shine a light upon a few of the digital content industry’s most common terms.

It starts with Copyright

Copyright is a legal right of ownership that allows creators of a written, artistic or published work to control how it is used and if it can be copied. In the UK, whether you mark your content with a © or not, your original work is copyrighted and belongs to you. Unauthorised use of protected content would result in copyright infringement, which could lead to legal challenges, and resulting damage to a person or company’s reputation and/or future revenue. You can legally acquire the right to re-use, modify or broadcast someone else’s work through the creation of a license.


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Creating a license

A license is an agreement between a video’s copyright owner (this can be the creator and/or the company having funded its production) and another user. The license details the exception of sole legal ownership for the intended use of the video (online, broadcast, corporate, promotional…). The license can be exclusive (for use by one organisation for the duration of the license) or non-exclusive (can be used by multiple organisations at any time).

Usually in the form of written consent, a license is given to the third party by the copyright holder for the use of their video. The agreement can specify a price paid for the license, limit the video’s use in content and duration, and the intended broadcast audience (national or international television, radio, web, live events, etc.). Accepting a license can be as simple as requesting a click when signing up to an online hosting service. In other cases, explicit detail of the intended use is requested, and followed up on after wards.

When do I need a license?

Unless it is for private study and non-commercial use (or falls into a few other exceptions) the law states that you always need permission from the copyright owner first for any content you have not created yourself but intend to use / share. Some services even protect their visual work with copyright watermarks, such as stock footage providers Shutterstock, Getty Images and 123RF.

Creative Commons

Some content creators operate under the mantel of Creative Commons (CC), meaning their content can be used providing the correct credit is attributed to the author and other restrictions are acknowledged. From music composers (Kevin MacLeod’s to images on hosting services like Flickr, providing the appropriate conditions of the CC license are met (acknowledging credit and modification), creative industries can often use this content free of charge.

If you’re a content creator, a Creative Commons license allows you to control usage of your intellectual property. Using the various options available (below), you determine how and to what extent other users can reuse your original content.


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Copyrighted means original content created by you.

Public Domain

Public Domain means the work has no known copyright and is free to use without restrictions.


All Creative Commons licenses require Attribution. In other words, when others distribute or reuse your work, they must always credit you for your original creation

Attribution ShareAlike

If you add a ShareAlike license to your intellectual property, others are allowed to copy, distribute, and use your content only if they redistribute your content using the same Creative Commons license.

Attribution No Derivatives

A No Derivatives license indicates that others can use your content, but they may not change it in any way.

Attribution NonCommercial

A Non-Commercial license adds the caveat that others can use your course content, but not for commercial purposes.

Royalty Free

“Royalty-free” refers to a licensing method under which rights to use content or intellectual property are sold at a flat rate for almost all purposes.

This is in contrast to rights-managed licensing, when a license is priced based on how the content will be used. Rights-managed licenses usually come with various usage restrictions, including length of time, regions, image size, and more.

The majority of content available on stock video and stock image sites are licensed as royalty-free – offering buyers great flexibility and no legal headaches associated with licensing restrictions.

How much does a video license cost?

Depending on the resources used to make the video, its intended use, the nature of the content, and the usual laws surrounding supply and demand, the price of licencing video can vary tremendously. Providing a single pricing guide is impossible, as a large number of variables can affect the price. The same content can be licensed for different uses for different costs in different regions. Common variables include the delivery format (SD, HD, 4K video), the intended target audience (local, national, regional, worldwide), the intended use (commercial, non-commercial, educational, charity…) and the license duration (1, 2, 5 10 years or perpetual).

Four common licensing models exist.

Fixed License Fee

The organisation can use the content for a fixed time and within a specific territory. If the content is original programming and is being broadcast online via an SVOD or AVOD platform, the licensee is not obliged to report the success or otherwise of the programme – or share in any revenue derived

Revenue Share

If the original content is being used to generate revenue (for example via SVOD or AVOD platforms), then the rights holder and licensee can each take a share on the transactions as nominated in the agreement.

Minimum Guarantee Revenue Share

As suggested, the licensee agrees to pay the rights holder a minimum revenue (usually up front) based on the basic licensing agreement and will pay additional fees should the content over-perform.

Fixed pay per view

Common to AVOD platforms like Hulu – the licensee pays a fixed to the content owner per view – but offsets that cost by making money from advertising revenue.

Should I license my content myself?

Large media production companies have rights management and legal teams necessary that can create bespoke licenses for one-off, perpetual or partial use of their video content by third parties.

Others may use a third party platform to manage their content – and licensing on their behalf. For example, Reuters relies upon Imagen’s subsidiary Screenocean to license their extensive News Archive to a selected collection of broadcasters, while Viral Video UK offers individuals a fully managed service to be able to license their home videos to interested third parties interested in their content.

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