Secondary Rights: The Greatest Kept Secret

This from Michael Grecco. More to come on this topic soon….

Secondary Rights: The Greatest Kept Secret

The greatest kept secret in photography is not a special lens or a light making everyone beautiful. The greatest kept secret in photography is the fact that $215 million in revenue is collected throughout the United States every year, using your images – while almost none of it goes to the photographers and artists that create these great images.

This money goes to “secondary rights”, the reproduction of publications that have already been printed. In other words, it is either used as a reference article by a corporation or distributed as a promotional piece by a business to supply potential clients press about their company. I, myself, do not give these rights away – I restrict third party usage, which is noted in the usage terms of my license and in the paperwork I give to clients.

Here is another analogy as to what these rights are: a musician writes a song and get’s paid every time a their music is purchased and/or downloaded – those are their primary licenses. That same musician though receives a payment from ASCAP or BMI every time that music is then used for commercial purposes, namely played on the radio, or in a bar, or in a restaurant. While Congress actually makes it mandatory that songwriters get paid, we as contributors to publications have no such protection.

The CCC was created by publishers to collect additional revenue for secondary rights. In other countries, these revenues are divided up, for the most part, between the publisher, the writer, and the visual contributor to the magazine. Here, the CCC only pays the publisher – mostly because they are the only party represented as rights holders. The CCC has been allowed to get away with this because most organizations do not publically talk about these rights. Instead, they try to do business with the CCC, allowing them to make money on your work – while they try to gain something for themselves.

Since many corporations pay the CCC in a “blanket” yearly license, the argument has been made that it is impossible to distribute money to artist when you do not know whom the rights holder, or artist, is. The reality is that the music industry does it everyday. They calculate whose songs were played the most, in what genres, and through sophisticated algorithms they determine how much money is owed to whom. Presently no photographer, illustrator, or writer is receiving this money. Wouldn’t it be better to attempt to distribute it rather than just giving it all to the publishers? I think with our industry doing as poorly as it is, this should be the photography community’s priority.

As Advocacy Chairman of APA, we would be interested in anyone who has knowledge of any magazines being reprinted and/or copied by people who have a CCC license. In fact, we would love copies of what has been duplicated, if possible. Please contact us at:

Thank you. More about this subject can be heard as part of my interview with Selina Maitreya’s radio show, Points of View:


Michael Grecco

Photographer + Director

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