Getty Images has several distinct brands. However, unlike a guest at the Intercontinental who would not take offense in knowing that the same company owns Holiday Inn Express (IHG.com), knowing that income that supports Getty Images comes from Paparazzi "gotcha" moments, as well as helicopters flying overhead, and a mom trying to have a normal day at the park with a crying child, among the thousands of images that Getty Images is making money from, likely wouldn't sit well with the celebrities. Thus, the recent distribution deal between Getty Images and paparazzi agency Buzzfoto should be brought to the fore for a bit of discussion.
Would Brad Pitt have been comfortable knowing that he used Getty Images for his avenue of distribution for the first photos of one of his children, when they are also profiting from this photo of him, or this photo of Angelina?
Paul Melcher quotes, in his posting "It's Crazy, indeed", Getty's Global Vice President of Entertainment, Mark Kuschner , from a July 2007 article in the industry standard Variety Magazine:
”We’re never going to get into the business of the long lens, hiding in the bushes, hunting people down. Our business is based around relationships with celebrities and publicists and publications. The way we shoot is we’re invited. Paparazzi business is getting more play, but that’s also a very cyclical business.”
Never? Never ever? Oh, how the times have changed.
Kuschner is quoted here as another segment of the Melcher quote "Our business is based around relationships with celebrities and publicists and publications. " So, I ask again - what do you think the celebrities you have built those relationships with would think about you profiting from their looking their worst through a backdoor channel?
The key players at WireImage, FilmMagic, and other companies built their companies on access, and ensuring that the celebrities they photographed, looked their best. I've personally seen more than one editing session where a celebrity image going out for distribution that had the celebrity looking less than their best would get axed. This was how these companies were built, and how they leveraged the relationships into companies that were then sold, and frankly, as long as everyone knows what's going on, there's nothing wrong with it.
Except when you make public statements that you would never do something, and then you do it when you think no one is watching.
Take a minute and dissect a single events' coverage.
Consider that a publication (either in print, or online), has just a few slots for images from a particular small to medium-sized event. If there is no "inside" photographer, then all the photos that are actually available, will come from the arrivals area. However, if you have these great images from inside, pairings of celebrities, those images will be more likely to get play than an arrival image - because they're better. Thus, When a publicist hires Getty or WireImage, and pays them $5,000, (and, by the way, the photographer gets about $250, for work-for-hire), that photographer is producing images inside, yet, on the outside, or in the bushes, or sneeking in through the kitchen (a la Blast 'Em) another photographer (or many of them) are producing images that places the same celebrities at the same event not only in a bad light, but also then has those images running side-by-side in searches.
So, when a photo editor can choose the pretty inside images from the $5k photo shoot, or the "more realistic" images from Buzzfoto, where the celebrity may look less than their best, the publicist's efforts have been watered down, possibly to the point where they become ineffective, yet, in the end, Getty not only collected the $5k, but the royalties from the less than flattering images as well.
Melcher makes a similar point in his piece:
"But how do you combine being the official photographer for a premiere or party, where you are hired to shoot the event and thus play along the publicists demands that all look nice, happy, and beautiful to the needs of a marketplace that would much rather see the same group of people, drunk, sick, dirty and arrested ? Especially since you went through incredible efforts to shut out your competition from all these official events, forcing them to wait outside and thus get those unauthorized shots ?"
Getty is trying to have it both ways, and in the end, if even one celebrity with the next million-dollar exclusive they want to distribute (Pitt/Jolie, Cruise/Holmes, etc), choosing Corbis, Zuma Press, or another agency may well cost Getty far more than Getty will likely earn from the paparazzi images they said they were "never going to get into the business of."
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