Real Estate Photo Licensing: What are You Paying For?

Copyright and licensing of images is confusing!

This is especially the case in Australia, where our extensive copyright laws mean it’s easy to misunderstand what your rights and responsibilities are. However, the consequences of misunderstanding copyright and licensing can be considerable. So it’s important to get it right.

To help you navigate this confusing legal world, I’ve put this post together to delve a little deeper into what real estate photo licensing means for you.

What are You Actually Paying For?

When you pay a real estate photographer to take photos of a property, you might think that you’re buying the photos. However, most of the time, what you’re actually paying for is a licence to use the images. That means that the photos – and copyright for them – remain with the photographer.

How Licensing Protects You

It may not seem immediately obvious, but photo licensing actually helps to protects you. For example, if another agency takes over your listing, they can’t simply take the high quality photos you’ve invested in, because those photos aren’t yours to give them. Licensing also helps to prevent your photos from being misused in other ways. And if they are misused, you don’t have to worry about the legal side of things – you can refer that to the photographer.

Restrictions to Remember

Of course, photo licensing also protects your photographer, so it’s important to know what your responsibilities are.

Because you don’t own the photos, you can’t provide copies to third parties without written permission from your photographer. (“Third parties” could include owners, builders, architects, interior designers, etc.) This is the rule that protects you from having other agencies hijack your photos. However, it’s also important to keep this in mind so that you’re doing the right thing with the photos in your interactions with third parties.

A Cautionary Tale

Because image licensing is so confusing, it can be tempting not to worry about it. However, the outcome of several small claims court cases suggests this isn’t the best attitude to have.

Recently, a real estate agent contacted their photographer to say that another agency, which had taken over a listing, was now using the photographer’s images. When the photographer contacted the agency to ask for payment so they could use the images legally, the agency refused. Ultimately, the small claims court awarded the photographer a fee ten times the price of the photos, plus costs. In this case, licensing protected the (original) agent as much as the photographer. But the story also illustrates the importance of following the law!

Keep to the Rules and You’ll Be Fine

So long as you’re careful to ask permission to share your real estate photos with any third parties, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

And if you want to be doubly sure? I’m yet to meet a real estate photographer who isn’t happy to explain your licensing rights and responsibilities to you. So don’t be shy – ask!

Question Time

Got any general questions about real estate photo licensing? Then let me know in the comments below!

(Please be aware that the advice in this blog post and in the comments below is general in nature, and provided in good faith. It should not be considered professional legal advice.)

What Does DRE’s Photo Licence Include?

At Digital Real Estate, we provide you, the original listing agent, with a 6-month, royalty-free licence to use the images and floor plans we provide to you. If you need an extension on this time period, or you want to share the images with a third party, you can apply to us in writing.


  1. Marlene-Reply
    18/07/2016 at 9:35 AM

    Interesting 🙂

  2. Caroline-Reply
    14/07/2017 at 11:19 PM

    We had our old house photographed when we sold it last year. It is on the market again (for sale) and they’re using exactly the same photos (that we paid for, with all of our furniture etc in them). Just wondering who ‘owns’ the photos and whether or not the agent should have asked us for our permission to use the photos we paid to have taken?

    • 15/07/2017 at 3:39 PM

      Hi Caroline. So ownership (copyright) of any photograph taken always belongs to the photographer, unless they have assigned the copyright to another party in writing. Usually when a photographer assigns copyright to another party, fees can be up to 10x what it would cost for a license.

      In your instance, I would make contact with the agent and just explain that you’re not happy with the photos being used with your belongings in them (especially if there are family photos or items which can identify you individually as this could be a breach of the privacy act). The agent may then remove any of your items from the photos through a “digital de-clutter” so the rooms are vacant.

  3. sue-Reply
    20/04/2018 at 7:25 PM

    We are at the end of our agreement with the Real Estate that is selling our house and are thinking about trying to sell it ourselves and were thinking about asking the real estate for the photos and video from the drone. Do we have to ask the real estate or the photographer and people who took the video. Are we expected to pay again?

    • 08/05/2018 at 10:02 AM

      Hi Sue. You could try the real estate agent first, and then the second option would be the photographer/videographer. It’s completely up to the photographer/videographer if they would charge again as it depends on the license agreement they grant with their photos/video.

  4. Sandra Darcy-Reply
    04/04/2019 at 1:11 AM

    Hi Eric my sister & I have just sold our mother’s house here in Windaroo, Queensland, and had selling marketing photos taken which were placed on Real, the Domain websites & the real estate agent’s website prior to auction, along with the property info. The buyer is a real estate agent who is going to rent the property & has accessed & used our marketing photos & property info for his rental ads on Real & Domain. He accessed these photos & info from somewhere, possibly online as suggested by our selling real estate agents who advised they didn’t provide them to him.
    We are most unhappy about this as this access & use of photos & info has been done without our permission &, particularly, after the buyer asked for extensions on deposit and settlement timeframes & refused to pay the penalty out of pocket expenses these extensions caused our pensioner mother.
    Is the buyer able to use our marketing photos & info without our peemission?

    • 04/04/2019 at 8:07 AM

      Hi Sandra. Generally speaking, no. Unless they received specific permission from the photographer who took your photos, they are not permitted to use the images. Your selling agents could contact their photographer and ask them to contact the buyer/ etc and have the images removed as it’s a breach of copyright.

  5. Liz Saunders-Reply
    23/07/2019 at 12:03 PM

    We have a lot of photos that have been taken by us and put on facebook. We are exiting the premises and are required to leave the business empty. Can they use these photographs to advertise the business which is a restaurant.

    • 29/07/2019 at 8:20 AM

      Generally, No – if you personally took the images, you are the copyright holder and therefore it’s up to you if they use the images or not.

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