Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

How school trademark licensing can affect graduation photography

Many colleges and universities place restrictions on third parties that sell products with the school’s logos or trademarks.  For example, if a company produces apparel with the logo of a university, there are normally licensing and approval requirements that must first be satisfied.  Additionally, fees and royalties are often paid back to the school as part of the agreement.  To facilitate the process, colleges and universities may contract with firms such as Collegiate Licensing Company to manage the licensing process, and account for revenue generated from external use of their institution’s brand.

Photography Considerations

With respect to commencement photographs and student portraits, there are two circumstances to consider.

how school trademark licensing affects graduation photographyFirst, incidental capture of the school’s brand identity is generally not subject to licensing requirements.  For example, this overview photograph from a recent commencement at Indiana University clearly shows the University’s logos on the Jumbotron.  (Click here for a larger view.)  However, the spirit of this image is the ceremony itself, not the logos.   In other words, it is the graduates, ceremony stage, and audience that represent the essence of what the photographer was trying to capture, which is not materially altered by the presence of the logos.  As such, an image like this would not be subject to licensing.

how school trademark licensing affects graduation photographyOn the other hand, this example from the University of Kentucky is a different matter.  (Click here of the image iteself for a larger view.)  In this case, the University’s logo is prominently displayed on the backdrop in such a way that the logo becomes a principle part of the photograph.  To use a logo or trademark in this capacity would, of course, need to be approved by the school.

Licensing Waivers

For financial reasons, photography companies are usually unable to participate in the licensing process for commencement photography or student portraits.  For starters, years of sales data indicates that photographs which require licensing do not sell better than those which do not.  Furthermore, the costs and administrative burden are simply unsustainable while operating on such thin margins.

However, many colleges and universities want their graduates to have ceremony portraits taken in front of a backdrop with their school’s logo.  After all, they do make great photographs.  When it is the school itself that desires their logos be used, the commencement coordinator(s) can normally work through the proper channels within their institution to have an exemption or waiver granted to the photography company.

GradImages Clients

If you are a GradImages client and have questions about using a custom backdrop and/or school logo at your commencement or grad fair, we can certainly help.  Within our company, there is no shortage of experience and expertise in this area.  Your account manager or field manager can help get the answers you need!

Topics: Commencement Photography Composite Photography Grad Fair Photography Student Portraits Legal