Ask An Agent / Can I use images on a dress?

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly feature answering your questions about the business of photography – the photography industry’s first Agony Aunt!

If you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything.

Dear Ask an Agent

I have just started a fashion business and would like to use some photography I found online in the form of digital textile printing on some dresses. As the final image won’t be recognisable as the original photograph, do you think I still need to get permission from the photographer to use the image? And how will it work in terms of payment? Will I pay royalties, so per unit of the clothing sold? I just came across your website and thought as an agent you would be a good person to ask this question as I didn’t really know.


Girlmance Art Director Gemma Fletcher

© Nick David

Hi Nimesh,

Thanks for asking the question, sounds like a great little business you are building.

My answer would be a definite yes, you do need to get permission from the photographer to reproduce their image in whatever form. The photographer owns the copyright and so they are the only one that can authorise you to reproduce it. Aside from that, I’m not entirely sure the image won’t be recognisable and anyway you are using it as a key part of your designs to make a profit from.

In terms of price and payment, the photography industry doesn’t generally work on royalties, as for example a book publishing deal would work. The usage is determined and agreed up front and you would buy a ‘usage licence’ based on media, time, territory and in some cases audience (e.g consumer, trade or corporate) . So in this case it would be along the lines of ‘dresses designed and retailed by xxx’ , it might be argued that the usage is ‘merchandise’ but personally I like to be specific as possible about the ‘media’ if we have specific details. Then it’s a case of for what time period and where will the clothing be distributed. You might want a usage licence for just 1 year, UK only, to keep the costs down initially if you are just testing the water. Or you might want to be able to sell the dresses worldwide and for 5 years or more.

Track down the photographer, give them the details of how you want to reproduce their image and go from there. As I always recommend, get this agreement in writing , especially the specific usage, the cost and the payment terms. The industry guideline is that payment of the agreed usage needs to be received before any usage is made. Who knows you might be the next big name in the fashion industry, and your dresses will hopefully fly off the rails. So pre-empt and prevent any issues now that might otherwise mar a happy and successful future. Good luck with it all, I might even buy one myself and we might even have some images you want to use!

Whether you’re a creative director or a student, a photographer or a designer, an art buyer or an assistant, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to and we’ll answer as many as we can!

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