Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Usher v. Corbis

I am getting really sick and tired of know-nothings opining about the Usher v. Corbis case, and the railroading he got by his agent. (By the way, PDN did a nice job reporting on it here, as did Haggart here.) Corbis, and every other stock photography agency at the time valued every analog image at $1,500 per image, because it was a one of a kind image that, once lost, cannot be recovered. Yes yes, the image that was shot a moment before and a moment after might have been similar, and, in some cases, were close to identical. However, it is precisely because SOME images are similar, and some images are significantly different and thus, over the life of the image, have a value much higher than $1,500, Corbis required its' clients to agree that $1,500 was a fair AND MUTUALLY AGREED UPON valuation to apply overall. Thus, since some that are similar might be worth less, and others that are not would be worth a whole lot more, valuing the work at $1,500 each was a fair figure.

(Continued after the Jump)

Further, Chris is in the NEWS business, and Chris was traveling with a Presidential candidate, where you are trying to work as the motorcade screams along at 50 miles-per-hour and you can't look up because you are trying to work with your gear, and when you board a plane you have to hand-off your valuable film to a courier to get it to the publication (or your agent) on deadline. In many cases, your AGENT is entrusted with processing the film, captioning it, and being the steward of your best interests.

It has been a foregone conclusion that Sotomayor would be confirmed, so there's little reason to squawk and pitch a fit thinking that it will impact her nomination. When you have 60 votes in the Senate that you own, it's fast-track time for whatever you want. The business of news photography does not allow for the careful cataloging of each and every image before delivering it to your agent, or your client because seconds and minutes of delay count. After or before the fact, it was Corbis' responsibility to have done that. For people who have suggested that he had poor paperwork and somehow thus deserved what he got, think again. Corbis' own $1,500 valuation they caused their clients to accept when analog images were delivered to them should have been the basis for the award, not $7. That's ridiculous. EVEN if you figured that every roll of 36 images that Chris produced had 30% in waste (blank, out of focus, missed moment, etc) Chris still got railroaded.

If anything, it was Corbis' responsibility to organize, track, and number all the images he had coming in during his time there. Their failure to do so showed their disregard for the photographers they were supposedly representing. It appears from everything I have read and heard, that Corbis was utterly derelict in their responsibility to Usher, and to other photographers as well. The final nail in the coffin was when Corbis' lawyers equated Chris' images to, yes, wait for it..... "nails", and suggested that his work is just a commodity.

I can't imagine a more solid argument for why any photographer represented by any major stock photography agency wouldn't pull every single image of theirs and use a service like PhotoShelter (as Art Wolfe/et al did) and manage their own affairs. Certainly nowadays it is so easy to do with digital, and then Corbis/et al could begin trying to sell all those empty filing cabinets. This doesn't make anything better or easier for Usher, but moving forward, know that, A) if you want something done right, do it yourself, and B) look with a cautionary eye at people who say they are your agent, because from photographers to actors, sports figures to musicians, those that wear the badge "agent" are more often than not not living up to that obligation.

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Rich Green said...

It's a very discouraging situation.

Peter Bowdidge said...

Corbis are currently holding a photo competition.


Part of their T&C reads:
"By submitting an entry, you grant Sponsor the irrevocable and perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide right to assign, use, publish, edit, adapt, modify, alter, reproduce, distribute, broadcast, display, copyright, create derivative works in any media now known or hereinafter developed, for commercial or non-commercial use, and without compensation to you."

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