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Monday, September 1, 2008

The PLUS Coalition: Standardized Licensing Codes

Protect your business and promote your work by employing the simple standardized licensing codes proposed by this internationally recognized organization

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The PLUS Artist & Licensor Registry screen.
Core to any photography business is increasing efficiency and productivity. Often, this can be an elusive objective to achieve. One organization working to address these and other objectives that are close to the heart of photographers is the PLUS Coalition, an international nonprofit organization overseeing the Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS). PLUS is an umbrella organization for all trade associations and stakeholders in industries involved in creating, distributing, using and preserving images. Participants include dozens of trade associations, including all of the associations representing photographers and illustrators in the U.S., but also spanning 30 countries.

PLUS is governed by a balanced, “industry-neutral” board of directors, with one seat for each industry sector. Central to the organization are standards that enable photographers, stock agencies, software companies, trade organizations and their clients to establish better working relationships, waste less time and gain greater value from streamlined interaction, minimizing miscommunications in the management of image rights.

Cofounder Jeff Sedlik, who’s the president and CEO of PLUS, current Professor of Photography at the Art Center College of Design and past president of the Advertising Photographers of America (APA), describes PLUS as “a very bright light on the horizon at a time when there aren’t a lot of bright lights on the horizon for independent photographers.”

What makes PLUS that “bright light”? As noted on the usePLUS.org website, its mission is “to simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights,” both domestically and internationally. PLUS does this via a system of standards comprised of five core initiatives developed cooperatively by photographers, stock agencies and their clients. All PLUS standards are free to use, whether you’re a PLUS member or not.

The core of the PLUS system of standards is comprised of the Picture Licensing Glossary, Media Matrix, License Data Formats, PLUS Packs and the PLUS ID System. These standards establish universal licensing terminology, media types and media options, license descriptions, license packages, and the identification of media, rights holders, licenses and images.

There’s no shortage of photography-related standards bodies, including two of the most well known, the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) and Creative Commons (CC). How does PLUS fit in? Sedlik describes these organizations as noncompetitive and, in fact, they’re actively collaborating.

IPTC, a consortium of news organizations and vendors founded in 1965, oversees metadata standards for the news industry. Originally, these metadata standards aligned to the transmission of text only. Later, these standards expanded, keeping pace with changing technology, adding attributes to support photographs. Adopted by a variety of trade organizations and software companies, the IPTC header in image files archives critical data, including captions, keywords, copyright status and basic rights information. IPTC is a charter PLUS member and has worked closely with PLUS on development of the PLUS standards to address the issue of rights metadata standardization.

The License Data Format shows what particular fields can be embedded within an image file.
PLUS enables photographers to describe rights information using standardized licensing codes and distinct fields that minimize, if not remove, the need to describe licensing terms in paragraph form. PLUS has assigned an ID number to every type of media and every usage option for every type of media. Similar in concept to the Pantone numbers that are widely used to identify colors, the PLUS codes allow photographers, stock agencies and their clients to precisely communicate rights information. PLUS is carefully designed for use in a globally networked marketplace. The codes allow for machine- and human-readable licenses, with automated translation of rights information into all major languages, so anyone in possession of an image has instant access to rights information in their own language. PLUS also provides free tools for looking up codes, generating license statements, embedding license metadata into image files and reading embedded licenses.

CC, a five-year-old nonprofit, creates and makes available standardized legal licenses for a variety of creative content, including photography. CC licenses allow users to grant rights to unknown parties for broad and potentially unforeseen use. CC licenses run the gamut from Attribution Only, where use is open even for commercial work as long as the photographer is attributed, to Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives, where all use is restricted other than redistribution (i.e., download and share).

In contrast, PLUS license packs allow users to manage image rights to known parties for specific use. PLUS and CC are cooperating to ensure that the PLUS standards will allow CC users to embed CC license information in image files. Both organizations are committed to educating users about each other’s standardized license systems. (Go to www.digitalphotopro.com to read the “Creative Commons” article from the May/June 2008 issue.)


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