PLUS: The Moon Shot of Communicating Usage Rights

Tuesday January 01, 2008 by Ethan G. Salwen,

Posted in: Legal Affairs

It seems that recently I never stop hearing about the PLUS Coalition. But who, or what, are they and why are they causing such a commotion in our industry? As commercial artists yourselves, you are no doubt aware of the complex issues regarding image licensing in this digital age, issues that must be addressed if our professions and livelihoods are to be protected. It is the goal of this article to introduce the PLUS Coalition and its goals and to encourage you to participate. After all, as commercial assignment artists we need to do everything we can to educate ourselves and safeguard our industry.

"PLUS offers the best, most effective means of simplifying and communicating the language of image usage rights," says Nelson Nunes, founder of ADBASE and the Chief Technology Officer and a Leadership Circle member of the Picture Licensing Universal System Coalition (PLUS). Like Nunes, thousands of individuals, companies and institutions wholeheartedly support the nonprofit, international PLUS Coalition.

The reason PLUS is generating such enthusiasm is because it is accomplishing something once thought impossible - the standardization of image licensing across all industries in all countries in all major languages. As an independent photographer and journalist who covers the photography industry, I am blown away by the story and promise of PLUS. I have come to think of PLUS as the "moon shot" of usage rightsâ€" providing a set of standards designed to solve a wide range of issues critical to the survival of professional photographers in the age of electronic imaging.

The PLUS undertaking is massive, and it can be a little bit tricky to understand at first. In this article I will introduce you to PLUS, how it came to be, and why it is important. By doing this, I will show you that the benefits PLUS offers image-makers are so profound that it is critical for all of us to join and support this initiative which will benefit each one of us in the long run.

History and Scope of the PLUS Initiative

For both photographers and their clients the advent of electronic imaging quickly resulted in a severe and growing problem regarding the communication, understanding and tracking of usage rights of thousands of digital images. In fact the problem is so severe that it continues to threaten the success of individual artists as well as stock agencies and other companies.

The PLUS Coalition was brought to life by Jeffrey Burke, a stock photography executive and past president of the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA), and Jeff Sedlik, a commercial photographer and a past national president of Advertising Photographers of America (APA), who joined forces to create this international non-profit organization in 2004.

The mission of the PLUS Coalition is eloquent: "To simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights." This mission came out of Burke and Sedlik's realization that in a world drowning in images, everyoneâ€"regardless of commercial objectivesâ€"would benefit from the ability to easily access and understand image rights and attribution information.

"From the beginning," says Sedlik, "We knew that PLUS would not succeed unless players from all sides of the picture licensing equation came on board." Burke and Sedlik conceived PLUS as an umbrella organization for all organizations involved in creating, distributing and using images. At the outset, they invited a diverse group of thousands of experts, associations and industry stakeholders from around the world to collaborate on a shared goalâ€"the creation and use of a universal image licensing language.

PLUS does not standardize or recommend pricing, but instead allows everyone, everywhere to clearly communicate and understand the rights associated with any image license. PLUS has made this possible by creating a standardized glossary of licensing terminology, standardizing a vast matrix of media usages and creating a metadata standard for communicating license information.

The beauty of PLUS standards, when used, is that they allow photographers, illustrators and stock agencies all to simplify licensing transactions for their clients based on their specific needsâ€"from a single photographer embedding fairly basic usage information to a giant stock agency using PLUS within thousands of automated transactions.

PLUS Momentum Builds

PLUS is making fast progress, methodically executing a strategic plan: first developing consensus, then creating the standards, and then working with developers and trade associations on integration and tools. "We have had very specific, very tight benchmarks outlined from the very beginning," notes Sedlik. "And we have met every one of these benchmarks."

Perhaps even more remarkable is the spirit of cooperation among those involved with PLUS. Organizations and professionals around the worldâ€"including those who are often at odds or are fierce competitorsâ€"have joined together to ensure the success of PLUS. Vendors are also participating on a high-level, such as ADBASE President and Co-Founder Nelson Nunes. As the CTO of the PLUS Coalition, he has provided leadership in developing the technical specifications of PLUS, working to ensure that the Coalition reaches all its technical goals.

Helping PLUS Reach the Moon

For licensees and licensors of images, the benefits of PLUS speak for themselves. PLUS is both a common usage language as well as a means to apply, read and understand the rights associated with any image using this language. For creators and distributors, PLUS facilitates the licensing process and protects images against accidental or intentional infringement. For clients, PLUS greatly simplifies the process of acquiring, understanding and managing image rights. The benefits of PLUS span all industries, benefiting everyone involved.

The most important thing you can do to promote the success of this critical initiative is to join the PLUS Coalition and to participate as a member. Visit the site, adopt the standards, use the free beta tools and provide feedback. Finally, it is critical to spread the word about PLUS among colleagues.

The potential of PLUS is stellar, and the initiative promises to have an amazing impact on everyone involved in creating, distributing and using images. However, to help PLUS reach its potential, we all need to embrace the organization and support its progress just as enthusiasts during the space race rallied behind that other moon shot that inspired the world.

For more information about the PLUS Coalition, visit

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