It seems that Getty Images may be playing fast and loose with the ethics of photojournalism these days. Getty is sharing in the sales of images of certain celebrities with the celebrities themselves, for example, in a little-known maneuver where they just happen to be in the right place at the right tim to catch a celebrity doing something, paparazzi style. They are, unfortunately, doing this on the down-low, and that's where the ethical problem comes in.
Back in March, Photo Business News wrote - Getty Images And Paparazzi Pictures (March 9, 2009) where Getty is using different brands to distinguish between "respectable photography" and "paparazzi". Since Getty and WireImage are seen by most publicists as a "white hat" wire service, equal to the AP and Reuters, Getty/Wire doesn't want to sully their reputation with gotcha paparazzi photography so they use another of their brands to take the reputation hit.
When an image is provided to the Associated Press, for example, from someone other than their staffers or as the result of a freelance assignment, their caption is clear on the source "In this handout photo provided by AEG, pop star Michael Jackson..." begins the caption for this photo, because AEG provided to all news outlets that photograph (which, interestingly enough is also a Getty Images image but AEG had the right to distribute because they were one of the contracting parties) and they do the "in this handout photo..." all the time.
When a photographer starts a fire, and then, oh, just happens to be first on the scene to make great photos, that's called a crime. However, when a celebrity says something like 'I'll tell you where I will be so you can photograph me but you have to share all the money you get from the photos with me', and then does not disclose this arrangement in the course of their "reporting", that's bad ethics.
How is this happening?
Getty LA Entertainment staff Photographer Frazer Harrison may well not be in on the game, but here's how it works. Harrison is a staff photographer, and the photo credit for a staff photographer is "Fazer Harrison/Getty Images" or "Fazer Harrison/WireImage". In this example "Kim Kardashian And Kourtney Kardashian Go Shopping", the credit reads "Frazer Harrison/KA/WireImage", where the "KA" is the change in the credit that makes it possible for Getty to track the sales properly so that Kim KArdashian gets paid. Further, she can see exactly where "her" images appeared since they will be specially credited. How do we know that this particular revenue sharing is with Kim, and not Kourtney?
Why, because Kourtney has her own revenue sharing code "KK", as shown here - Kourtney Kardashian And Scott Disick Go Baby Shopping. "But how can you be so sure?" you might ask? Because if you check this link, you'll see that before they headed off to be "surreptitiously" photographed by the photographer, they had a portrait session with him using the same "KK" code. Harrison's images, however, are not the only Getty content where this is happening. When Getty's Florida staffer, Gustavo Caballero just happened upon a "sighting" of Kourtney and Khloe, his credit has the same code "Gustavo Vaballero/KK/Wire Image" - Khloe Kardashian And Kourtney Kardashian Sighting In Miami - June 18, 2009, and in this case, further, this image is billed as an "**EXCLUSIVE**", and further notes "(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply)". Clicking this link it looks like Gustavo had to spend the whole day with Kourtney and Khloe doing "sightings".
It's one thing, for example, for Brad Pitt to use Getty as the distribution channel where everyone knows that he's getting money from it (and best that he donates it to charity) when they are the first photographs of his child, however, for Getty to put these images in their "editorial" category is ethically dubious, at best, without disclosure of the deal.
Is this phenomenon new? No. Do other celebrity photo organizations do it, sadly, yes. The key is to disclose these things and be up front about them. You might suggest that this isn't "photojournalism" so who cares? Well, when the subject is a politician (like the many Congressmen) or a businessman (like Maddoff) who is marched in and out of courtrooms and photographed on the streets, we call that photojournalism, but then when a celebrity is photographed on the street, it's not the same? They are the same, and they should be subject to the same ethical guidelines and disclosures. The only real difference is that when a politician or a businessman breaks the law, or a celebrity is out for the day on the town, it is a difference between "need to know," and "want to know."
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