Freelancer working on laptop

Managing usage rights for freelance content creators

18 April 2023    |    By: Nathan Bentley

For many freelancers and small businesses, a simple agreement or implied terms might be enough when it comes to agreeing how a client or customer can use content you create for them. In particular circumstances, this type of arrangement may be entirely appropriate however sometimes freelancers may be losing out on additional income by not having a more secure content usage agreement in place.

Typically under copyright law, the right to use content doesn’t automatically transfer from the creator to the end user as a result of a commission being paid – creative content will usually remain under the ownership of the business or individual who created it, which is why it’s always good practice to have an agreement between the creator and the client which highlights exactly how, where and when the creator gives the client license to use that content.

By having this agreement in place, freelancers and small businesses can protect the content they produce from being used out of scope, or from being sold on to other businesses without prior consent. This also means that should the client or business wish to continue to use content for commercial gain after an agreed period, they will need to make a new agreement with the creator, ensuring the creator doesn’t lose out on income as a result. By managing usage rights from the outset, freelance content creators will be able to protect the longevity of their business and any content they create.

Before setting up a content usage agreement it’s important for businesses to take time to consider a few factors. First off, agreements need to encompass a whole host of different types of content, especially if the content a business creates also uses third party resources (for example, music or sound effects in a video). Therefore, usage rights for existing or third-party content needs to be factored into any agreements made.

Businesses should also consider that content usage agreements do not entitle the transfer of copyright – this is a far more complex process which will typically involve additional fees and consequently content usage agreements should be considered as a temporary licence, as opposed to being seen as a way to transfer ownership of content. Remember, content creators are allowed to define the parameters of this temporary licence, so it’s important to find balance between creating an agreement that ensures future income from that content is secured, without being detrimental to the client's creativity, or bank account. It is crucial that any agreements made are fair for all parties as at the end of the day, the customer needs to be satisfied with this agreement before any work or commissions can begin.

Setting up a usage rights agreement can be a quick and easy process which is mutually beneficial to the creator and their client. By following these simple steps, creators can include this as an organic part of their service and in doing so can ensure the longevity of their content and set up additional income streams for years to come.
It’s important that agreements are made before any content goes live as this may complicate the process. It’s good practice to ensure any agreements are made during the initial consulting and planning stage, that way the client knows exactly what to expect and isn’t asked to sign up to any new agreements once the commission has started. Businesses should be transparent and ensure a discussion about content usage rights are a part of the onboarding process. Businesses could create a document or a web page which details how their content usage rights work which can be sent directly to clients upon an initial enquiry. 
Some businesses might not wish to set up a content usage rights agreement at all – that’s fine. For others though it’s important to ensure the agreement only includes the rights that the creator needs. Ensure the rights are relevant to the types of content created, that they are channel specific and that they are flexible enough for the client. Don’t over complicate the process by referring to rights for content that the client hasn’t even enquired about.
It’s not unusual for freelancers and small businesses to use third-party content, therefore it’s important to cross check any existing licences from third-party content to ensure that the agreement is valid. Businesses that use third-party content need to ensure that they themselves are also operating in line with existing licences and content usage agreements.
The content creator may need to be ready to negotiate with the client to ensure that a fair deal is met for all parties. This agreement shouldn’t be in place to put potential customers off, rather it’s an agreement that gives the client the confidence to know they are using content they have a right to use, correctly, and that the creator gets a fair return from it. Agreements need to be flexible to meet the needs of everyone concerned and they may need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances too.
It is good practice at this stage for freelancers to create a formal agreement which the client can sign. There is no correct way to create such a document, however freelancers and businesses should consult their usual legal advisors for information on how to complete this. This step could involve additional work and legal fees but in the long run may prove to be money well spent, once clients start putting pen to paper. It’s important to securely save signed agreements so they can be referred to later. Clients should do the same so the terms of the agreement always remain within arm’s reach and can be looked back upon as necessary.

It might not always be appropriate for businesses to set up a usage rights agreement for content they have created, however for many this can provide a safety net should a client start to use content in a way that breaches a creator's expectations.

These agreements do not need to be restrictive, and they can still allow clients to express creativity whilst ensuring that the creator is always able to maintain claim to the content they have created. This can help to generate income for the long term and gives everyone involved an elevated sense of confidence – clients know exactly where, how and when they can use the content and creators know that their creations are being used in a way they have agreed upon. Should this change in the future, the freelancer may be entitled to additional revenue and the client will be able to adapt and budget for such fees ahead of time. Content usage rights agreements take the hassle out of having to have awkward conversations and can typically be of benefit to all parties involved when they are established correctly.

Nathan Bentley
Article by
Nathan is a content writer at Premierline with over 5 years’ experience, specialising in news and current affairs which impact small businesses across various industries. Nathan is passionate about discussing topics that affect the workplace, covering everything from human resources, to emerging and disruptive technologies. In the past, Nathan has written for a number of different businesses, working within a wide range of industries from financial technology to hospitality and even men’s fashion.
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