My friend and colleague Chris Usher won an important victory against Corbis, when, on November 7th, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Corbis was liable for the lost of 12,640 of Usher's best images from the 2000 Presidential Campaign, during which time Usher covered both George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Usher, who had built a successful business representing himself was wooed by Corbis, who valued his access and consistent play in the major newsweekly magazines. Usher, hoping to focus more on the making of images than on the business aspect, thought Corbis a viable alternative to running the store himself. After less than two years with lackluster results and lingering questions about how Corbis' operations were being run, Usher ended his relationship with Corbis in November 2001, and sought the return of his images, starting up his own Apix agency, to fill the void. However, the time commitment to properly attend to the Corbis case took it' toll, and Usher and his co-founder Adrienne DeArmas opted out of that effort, which was dedicated to working with young photographers. Now, she and Usher operate Chris Usher Photography & Associates.
During the course of the case, Corbis was found significantly deficient in it's tracking and archving of images, and failed to excercise reasonable care with the valuable images. In December, the court will determine valuation. The judge is expected to refer to the previous case of Arthur Grace v. Corbis, which in many ways is identical to Usher's situation. Grace recieved $472,000 for the 40,000 images that Corbis lost. In that case, the final valuation was a paltry $11.80 per image, which, for Arther Grace's images, is a joke - his work was worth much more. Applying this math, Usher might reasonably expect $149,152 from this case.
What the courts should do, is refer to Corbis' own paperwork - delivery memos, and their own bills to clients for lost images, where the valution was closer to $1,500 to $2,000 per image, which was, for many years where analog images were the norm, a standard that the agencies placed upon the lifetime loss from the image no longer being available.
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