Today I was out on assignment photographing Arlo Guthrie. It was among the assignments this week that I was most looking forward to, hopeful that he'd sing Alice's Restaurant. Alas, he did not, but he did posit a thought to the corollary:
"The problem with doing nothing, is that you never know when you're finished."Gutherie said:
"The art of doing nothin' is probably one of the most profitable things you can do, because it sets you up to be doing something."This then begs the question - "What should you be doing?
Well, the right thing, of course.
What exactly is the right thing?
Well, in the abstract, when you justify taking an assignment for fees that are to low, or an excessive rights grab, with the sentence "well, it's better than doing nothin'", that should be a sign to you that Arlo's thinking should be kicking in.
If your justification for taking an assignment worth $1,000 and doing it for $200 because the client has said "$200, non-negotiable, take it or leave it", and you said to yourself "$200 is better than making nuthin' tomorrow" then you might need to be thinking like Arlo.
If your justification for taking an assignment and being paid $400 but having to transfer copyright is because "$400 for images that have little resale value anyway is better than not making the $400" then you might need to be thinking like Arlo.
Arlo was talking profitability by "doing nothing." At first blush, it seems contradictory.
Yet, upon further reflection, its' not. Instead, free yourself up on that day to seek out a better paying clientele base, and one that does not demand an excessive rights package. These clients are the ones who respect you and your work, and thus, your constitutionally guaranteed right to control the rights to your work.
One of the more unpleasant conversations I had today was with a client for an assignment tommorrow, who, after his subordinate signed my contract with a rights-managed rights package, called saying "I just want to make sure we own all the rights to these photos", to which I had to explain that that wasn't the case, and that, outlined in the contract was a rights package that, for the press conference we were covering, was all the common rights needed and that we grant as a part of our standard package. Further, we weren't granting rights to him which we did not have (i.e. those that require model releases when people attending have not signed model releases, and thus, cannot appear in marketing materials). I noted to him that I couldn't convey to him "all rights", since "all rights" includes the right to use the photos in ads and brochures and so forth, and I'd be charging a fee of him for something I didn't possess.
He then said "we just have a fundamental difference about how to approach this." And I said "well, mine is a perspective based upon copyright law and rights granted under the Constitution. Are you suggesting that if an artist produces a song and earns money off the CD, that they then shouldn't be paid additionally when their music is used in a movie or a commercial?" And he said "well, that's different." I said "no, actually, it's the same copyright principle."
We are doing this assignment tomorrow, not because the client is happy with the terms, but because they signed a contract with a standard rights package and then, after the fact, just a few (business) hours before the event was to start, thought they would try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement - to terms which we cannot convey, and which we principally objected to. Thus, the power of the signed contract.
Today, Arlo didn't play Alice's Restaurant, which is alright by me, since what he did play was amazing in it's own right. At first, I thought I'd be disappointed that he didn't, but afterwards, and upon reflection, I was exceedingly pleased with what he did play. So too, will tomorrow's client be pleased with the work we produce for them, even if they don't get every right under the sun, they will get quality work from a professional photographer, who is "doing something" profitable tomorrow.
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