Whether at a small weekly or a major metro daily, if you are licensing photography from others or assigning others to make pictures, you have certain responsibilities.

If you don't already have them, you should develop company policies for licensing and contractor agreements and make sure everyone understands them. Your company can be liable for thousands of dollars if someone working for you misuses a photo - or abuses someone who produces photographs.

And by the way, you do not buy photographs; you license rights to use them. This is a key legal distinction that will lead you away from some serious mistakes.


If the photographer is not officially your employee, the picture was made within the past 70 years or so, and if you do not have a written license to use an image, you risk infringing on someone else's copyright when you reproduce it. This includes images downloaded from the Internet or taken from a high school yearbook. You need to ask, and possibly pay a licensing fee, before using anyone else's images.

For more information please see:

W-9 forms [PDF] (You are required by law to get these from anyone who bills you over $600/ year)

For tax purposes this is an important distinction. Read up on how the IRS defines the two [PDF]. If you treat an independent contractor like an employee your company will be liable for back taxes. And absent a contract that gives you such rights, if you treat the pictures of an independent contractor as if they were produced by a staff photographer, you could be liable for damages in a copyright suit.

These are not required for editorial use of photographs, but there may be circumstances where you need them for images that will be used for advertising, promotion or as products.