Monday, August 4, 2008

Conde Nast, Encyclopedia Britannica - Selling "Their" Images

Over seventeen years ago, I was a young upstart photographer, and I was approached by Washington Life Magazine, a brand new magazine, to shoot for them. And I did. Black and White, color if it was to be a cover story. After a year or two of steady work, the publisher, who ran the business out of her home in DC sat me down. She did so seperately with every photographer. Divide and conquer. She explained her position quite simply.

Washington Dossier, a magazine that was started in Washington DC in 1975, and which folded in the late 80's, did not own any of the assignment photography it commissioned. She did not want to make that same "mistake", and wanted to own, outright, all the images she commissioned me, and others to produce.

I sat on her couch, in her living room, and contemplated my situation, as the grandfather clock ticked off the seconds, and the minutes passed. What should I do, I thought. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tick...

(Continued after the Jump)

I said to her that I understood her position as a business, wanting what she had been paying for for one use, and re-paying for re-uses, and further, to have an asset to value. But, I relied on my re-licensing to her, and I did not want to be in a position where she would become a photo agency, selling, re-selling my images - especially if I wasn't going to get a portion of those re-uses.

"We're not going to do that", she responded.

"But you could." I noted.

"We just don't want to have to deal with photographers in the future to re-use photos we hired them to take in the first place", she said.

And, on that point, I said "well, we'll have to agree to disagree, and while I respect your position as a businessperson to require this, as the person who would be responsible for providing that content, I just can't do that." That, is exactly what I said. And that was the end of the conversation. They've surely had a collection of photographers over the years who have signed those agreements, and that's fine for them. Not for me.

Over the years, I've seen many photo credits outside of Washington Life. An example By photographer Tony Powell, seen in this brochure for the Shakespeare Theatre.

They frequently appear on blogs, like TV Newser, here, and also of Sen. Harold Ford, in an an image here.

And when the Smithsonian had a fiasco on it's hands with a senior staffer who had allegedly abused her expense account, the cover photo and other images of their cover girl Pilar O'Leary got re-used with the photo credit of "Washington Life.", in many places, including the Washington Post, as seen here, and other places.

I have seen and heard colleagues try to justify their work for the likes of Vanity Fair, and other Conde Nast publications. Now, starting slowly, VF is selling prints from their past assignment work in their Vanity Fair Store, as shown here:

Those are very respectable prices - yet the photographers, atleast under the terms of the agreements they sign for assignments now, are not entitled to a dime from the sales of those prints. Next up will be more recent prints, you can bet on it.

So too, are images available for sale from the Encyclopedia Britannica image archives, as About The Image reported here. 55,000 images, over two-thirds digitized, and ready to e-mail to you!

When clients tell you they need all rights, copyright transfers, work-made-for-hire, and so forth, and tell you they'll never do anything with them "we just need to get all the rights...", it's highly likely they are mis-informed, or just not telling the truth.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...


You're preaching to the choir, but.............
I can't tell you how many young upstart photographers, students of photography, photojournalists, and "weekend warriors" call me for council and AFTER I WARN THEM ABOUT THIS ISSUE THEY GO OUT AND DO JUST THAT.

I'm sorry but I've spoken to these colleagues numerous times until I'm blue in the face but yet they not only sign away all of their rights, but some of them do the job for free and/or for the photo credit.

I'm glad that there is finally a backlash and viewable figures that these misguided souls can see; and I hope that they realize that those nice folks that so gently took their rights and photographs from them, are benefiting from the photographer's sweat.

MarcWPhoto said...

I know you're being general here, and I could not agree with you more, but my response to such a statement would have been, "If you need to be sure you can always use them in your magazine, we can certainly tack on a small re-use fee per shot or per session, and then Washington Life is free and clear forever on them. If you need all the rights, then you need to buy the copyrights. We can do that too, but the assignment fees will be quite a bit higher. Which would you like to discuss?"

Was there any of that kind of talk - defusing the "we just might want to reuse them, we don't want to be a stock agency" approach?


Anonymous said...

I've said it over and over and I'll never stop saying it. I've never been lied to more in my life than I have in this business.

IMHO, most buyers across the board are of the belief that if your stupid enough to believe what their dishing out or desperate enough to want to be there, They really are not lying, they are just smarter than you.

Wolves in sheeps clothing.


Tomas Stargardter said...

When clients that I like, that do charity work want all the rights. I ad to the contract that the images are for thier use only and may not be sold or transfered to third parties.

They agree to it and I am happy.


John Harrington said...

Marcwphoto -

Yes, we'd discussed re-use, in fact, they'd paid previously. They wanted the same fee to apply to all uses - and ownership - and there was no movement on that.

- John

MarcWPhoto said...

John -

It seemed pretty likely that that was the case. I just wanted to be sure I wasn't getting the impression that they were being even more greedy than they actually were.

I personally, especially since I represent a content buyer for my "day job," can't blame a business for trying to get the most bang for its buck. That doesn't mean that as a content provider, I have to give them valuable copyrights for assignment fees. Unlike the woman in your example, we are always ready to negotiate.


Anonymous said...

In the late 1980s McGraw Hill's editors at Architectural Record magazine called in the principal from an important architectural photographers' agency for lunch and (this is the sad part) she went in without preparation.

They sprang upon her their desire for a single flat rate for all sizes of reproduction (excepting magazine covers) and including continued free use in the table of contents. Pressured to make an immediate decision, she too readily agreed.

Anonymous said...

John, I want you to know that what you write is being read and being understood. This business of believing in oneself is messy and never ending. It's the constant, patient voices like yours that keep us all encouraged and give us hope. Thanks.

Unknown said...

If photographer's are not smart enough to keep their copyright, when it comes to these type of assignments, well once they see those photos being sold online for over $350, they'll hopefully wise up and realize how much value their photos actually have.

Anonymous said...

Just to drop the hammer on those that don't value their copyright...........

I just yesterday received an e-mail from a client that wants to license an image that I licensed to them 5 years ago for ANOTHER 5 YEARS.

If I was to have "rolled over" and given away my copyright when I first shot the assignment 5 years ago; this is income that I wouldn't be seeing for the last 5 years let alone the next 5 years.

All I can say is be wise with your copyright; it is something of value and something that you should consider very seriously NOT giving away.

Anonymous said...

Just curious playing semi-devil's advocate here, but in retrospect to your conversation with your client, could you not have taken negotiations further by suggesting a compromise? As I see it, you could have given your clients the rights she wanted. But when she said, "We won't do that", referring to the potential agency aspect, you could have replied, "fine, let's put that part in writing".

I've brought similar rebuttals to clients, esp. non-profits. I'll usually phrase it along the lines of, "agree to any use by you and your company, for any materials you actually produce." That way, if we can eliminate any 3rd party use or licensing, that takes away a sizable concern.

File under: "Clients; give them what they want and need, but not more...and charge accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I posted a comment yesterday that never showed up; 'sup with that?

You can always ask for, or require a clause that restricts use to client only, and eliminates any and all 3rd party use(s). This way your client could have what she wanted, and you'd have relief from the fear that she could potentially act like an agent and start reselling images.

(Hoping this comment gets through...)

Anonymous said...








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