Monday, August 31, 2009

** UPDATED ** How to rip off 1,000 Photos

UPDATE: Kathryn Ellison, who was the author of this book, writes in her comments below "...The book has been cancelled, the site has been taken down, all images have been deleted from the server...", and you can read more about her position on this blog posting in her comment. She has also deleted her authorship of this book from her LinkedIn profile.

Rip Off: - noun. exploitation, esp. of those who cannot prevent or counter it.

If you wanted to get yourself 1,000 free photographs that are royalty free, and a printed catalog for ease of browsing, what would be the best way? Why, call it an "opportunity" to be published in a book, and pitch it to unsuspecting students. When submiting "up to five photos" to the proposed book "Stocked Up: 1,000 Royalty Free Photographs" you grant royalty-free rights for the "privilege" of being published. So goes the idea that author is proposing for a book being developed for How Books and Rotovision SA.

"if I could...would ya..." So begins the scam that began on used car lots and now reads like "if I could promise your photo would get published, would ya give me all rights to it....". Kristin Ellison (LinkedIn: Profile) essentially is making that offer, because she wants to sell a photography book. And, if you want to sell a photography book, what better way to maximize your sales than to give everyone who buys the book a free DVD with 1000 high resolution photographs, including an unlimited worldwide license to commercially exploit each photograph?
(Continued after the Jump)

Don’t have 1000 good photographs to include in your DVD giveaway? No problem. Just sucker a bunch of photo students into sending you their best images and granting you unlimited usage rights and sublicensing rights in exchange for “exposure” and a grand total of $0. At least, that’s the genius gameplan that “author” Kristin Ellison and her publisher How Books and Rotovision SA schemed up for their new book. Ellison, on behalf of How and Rotovision are canvassing the photo schools and encouraging photo students to submit their 5 best photographs for inclusion in the book and DVD. The sad part is, they will probably receive far more than 1000 submissions, from students who don’t yet understand that by granting unlimited rights to Rotovision, they are injecting their images into the global marketplace forever, and are forfeiting any possibility of issuing exclusive licenses in those images. Rotovision also requires that each contributor indemnifies Rotovision from any liability associated with the photographs. Meaning that if any one of the adults or children appearing in the photographs sees their likeness in an advertisement, or for example, on a Nazi web site, and sues Rotovision, the student photographer is solely liable to the models.

Further, the website that promotes this endeavor is misrepresenting things to the unsuspecting contributors. When they write
"Please note: Contributors maintain all rights to, and ownership of, all images submitted. Contributors are granting RotoVision the right to publish their images in the book and on the DVD to be used by readers in any manner they choose."
This is a definitive contradiction. You no longer own any exclusive rights to your work. You don't have the right to license exclusive use to any client, and you have no right to preclude someone from doing something objectionable with your work. The list goes on.

Here's the sales pitch, that went out to educators worldwide:
I am the author of the upcoming book “Stocked Up”, a collection of 1,000 photographs. The book will be published next year in the US by How Books, and in the UK and abroad by RotoVision SA. I am writing to you because I am in the process of soliciting images for inclusion from all types of photographers, but especially students. When I was a photography major I submitted my work to a contest and was featured in the resulting book. This was an extremely empowering event for me and gave me confidence in my work. It was a professor who let us know about the contest and made one of our term assignments be to shoot images for submission.

I would be thrilled if you would share this opportunity with your students. It is free to submit work and anyone may submit up to five images via my website The website contains all the details and necessary forms, but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me at any point.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.



Kristin Ellison
Stocked Up: 1,000 Rights-Free Photos

So, who exactly is Rotovision, and How Books? It can't be that this is the same How Books that publishes The Photographers Market book each year, or The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, or The Designers Guide to Marketing and Pricing, can it? Rotovision SA also has published a number of respectable books too, so it is surprising that they would be involved in something like this.

The contract you are required to sign reads, in part:
1 - I hereby assign and grant RotoVision permission to reproduce at any size the image/s submitted by me for inclusion in the Work, in all editions, co-editions, revisions, and reprints of the Work...The sole consideration for granting these rights shall be the promotional benefit to me of inclusion in the Work.

2- Contributors will not recieve complimentary copies as a result of their images being included in the book.

3 - Rotovision will have no liability over users of the DVD...Rotovision can take no responsibility for any pirating and onward sales of the images...
This, and the rest of the contract, is just plain wrong. The home page pitches you thusly -
"Just think, your work could ultimately be featured in a magazine, in a work of art, or on a greeting card, the possibilities are endless!"
Actually, the one possibility that does not exist, is for you to actually get paid by someone who sees your image, because it will be free to them. So, when it comes to earning money, the possibilities actually end - the buck does not stop here.

Interestingly enough, give this idea they propose on the website some thought:
"The more images we get to chose from the better the book will be. A better book will mean greater publicity for it (and your work) and wider distribution around the world. So tell your friends about it and get them to submit work as well."
If you're not really thinking at all, you'll tell everyone, and that would be a consistent thought process with agreeing to do this in the first place. The fact is, for every person you tell, you diminish your chances of being in the book. The "author", Kristin Ellison, is also the Editorial Director of WOWIO, having left RotoVision as Executive Editor before even a years' time, only to take up the title "author" for the first time when she was successful in pitching "Stocked Up". Ellison remains also as Editorial Director at WOWIO, who's slogan is "Free Books Free Minds". Among the books they are offering for free reading online is Susan Sontag's On Photography; Aerial: The Art of Photography from the Sky, and several black and white books by Terry Hope. Outreach to some of the authors and publishers whose material is listed online for free have not yet been returned to confirm these free offerings are legitimate or not.

So, what to do about all this? Why, write to the author and publishers to voice your displeasure. The "Author", who is better ascribed the title of either editor, or, well, you pick a colorful title, is {redacted} . RotoVision's publisher, whose name is at the bottom of the contract you must sign is April Sankey (LinkedIn: Profile) can be reached at: {redacted} . Their Commissioning Editor Isheeta Mustafi (LinkedIn: Profile) can be e-mailed at {redacted} as well. HOW Books, is a part of F+W Media, so let's start at the top with them. David Nussbaum (LinkedIn: Profile), the Chairman and CEO can be reached at {redacted} . David Blansfield (LinkedIn: Profile), the President can be reached at {redacted} . Also listed as a President is Sara Domville (LinkedIn: Profile), who can be reached at {redacted} . Stacie Berger (LinkedIn: Profile) is their Director of Strategic Communications, and can be reached at {redacted} . While it looks like RotoVision will be doing the distribution outside of the US, HOW looks to be involved in the US, and you might want to let them know how you feel about this idea that HOW Books would promulgate such a bad idea upon under-educated and ill-advised students who are ripe to exploit and have few or no tools to counter such a bad idea. Pressure from the top down on whomever is in charge of the HOW Books division might change their minds.

NOTE: We have redacted the e-mail addresses in this updated post for the author and publisher contacts, since the book has been officially canceled, and there is no longer a need to write to them.

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.


Lukasz Kruk said...

nice touch with including all the email addresses. you sure know how to make a point and convince people to act.

Shropshire said...

I've written the emails and sent them. This is disgraceful and quite frankly vulgar. I've also posted a thread on OSP and I'll be blogging about this as well. I hope that it will be enough.

If one of the great publishers can do this then, well who will follow?

One step for big companies, one giant fall for the photography industry.

Unknown said...

Hey John,

How about posting a form letter that we can copy and paste to these people? It'll get the message across if a 1000 people say the same thing.

John Pagliuca said...

Hi John,

I was stung by a similar scheme when I was a student; I entered slides in a "contest" for best pictures of Washington, DC, and the promoter disappeared two days before the "winners" were to be announced, with the thousands of images that had been submitted. Voila, he now had a library of stock images to sell - plus our entry fees.

Kristin Ellison said...

I appreciate that there are many photographers who have the luxury of years of toil behind them resulting in enough experience and notoriety to make this opportunity feel offensive. But to many, a photo or two of their choosing is a small price to pay for getting published and having a worldwide audience see their work in the book, as well as drive traffic to their online portfolio. Few new photographers have the means to market themselves in a meaningful way that results in paid work. So is it better to hold tight to every image and risk stagnation due to obscurity? That is for the photographer to choose, but I feel that obscurity is ultimately a much greater price to pay.

“Stocked Up” was not developed to swindle photographers, especially young ones; it is designed to support the everyday stock photography needs of designers while also increasing exposure for contributors. This strategy is employed in publishing with major houses and authors giving away free ebooks (on that note, every book on WOWIO is authorized by the publishers), in music such as on iTunes with their “Single of the Week”, or when young writers pen pieces not for compensation, but to get clips for their portfolio. I noticed the link “Charlie Rose is Free!” in the “ASMP’s Strictly Business Blog” section of your site. I think it would be helpful for readers to click on that link and consider the arguments presented there.

I know that many seasoned professionals and I will have to agree to disagree, but there are many who feel this is a wonderful opportunity and are well aware of all that it entails on a contractual level. We have no hidden agenda. Everything has been clearly spelled out on the forms and it is up to prospective contributors to decide if this makes sense for them. It will not make sense for everyone, but for those looking to build their portfolio and increase their exposure, it may be just what they were looking for.

Edward J. Silk said...

Ms. Ellison, last time that I looked, iTunes single of the week includes only the right to listen to the single, and does not include the right to use the music to advertise products and services. Nor does iTunes distribution include the right to create, distribute and sell derivative works from the single, or to publish and distribute the music without limitation and without credit or copyright notice to the author. Nor does iTunes distribution require the rights holders to hold iTunes harmless from liability associated with the as-yet unknown usages to be made by third parties worldwide. Most importantly, iTunes distribution does not permanently wipe out the rightsholder's ability to support themselves by licensing exclusive rights in their music. In contrast, you are offering up student photographers’ images for unlimited commercial use and publication, allowing derivative works to be made from the images, not requiring credit with copyright notice, and you are requiring that the students hold you and your publisher harmless for usages resulting from distribution of your book and dvd. Your attempt to compare your project to iTunes is pure nonsense. There is no similarity, whatsoever. iTunes users get the right to listen to the music, and that is it. If someone who listens to that music wishes to use that music for any purpose other than listening, you can bet that they are required to contact the rights holder or authorized licensor and to pay for a license for that use. We’re talking “personal use,” in which users *listen* to music., or *look* at photographs. If you’d like to follow the iTunes model, then your book should allow users to *look* at the images, and nothing more. Whether a photographer is just starting out or is an experienced pro, inclusion of images in your book and dvd will serve no beneficial purpose whatsoever, except to destroy the value in the photographs and create a significant burden of liability for the artist. Let’s be frank. You are making false promises to photographers in an egregious attempt to secure free images to support sales of your book, and profits for your publisher. At least be honest about that.

Gavin ・ ギャビン said...

Hi John. Thanks for the great blog and all your hard work.

I'm curious about the legal difference between the inclusion and exclusion of the word "exclusive". You quote the contract as saying,

"Please note: Contributors maintain all rights to, and ownership of, all images submitted. Contributors are granting RotoVision the right to publish their images in the book and on the DVD to be used by readers in any manner they choose,"

which does not contain the word "exclusive". Then you go on to comment on this portion of the contract using the word repeatedly.

"This is a definitive contradiction. You no longer own any exclusive rights to your work. You don't have the right to license exclusive use to any client, and you have no right to preclude someone from doing something objectionable with your work."

Does inclusion of the word "exclusive" in the wording create a distinctly separate set of rights that would not exist without it? Is this a legal grey-area? Or is it well accepted that used or not, the rights remain the same?

Andrew Pinkham said...

There's no better way of telling the ad and design world that you're giving your work away for free and they'll have the book to prove it.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, once you grant non-exclusive rights to any party or parties (known or unknown) for an unlimited time period, you forfeit your right to license exclusive use to any other party in the future.

Unknown said...

If you don't mind, I might submit a photo of my ass taken with my iphone. Royaly free for ms. Kristin Ellison. I'll call it 'art' with a deeper meaning to it.

MarcWPhoto said...


It is not that the photographer is giving the "Stocked Up" thing exclusive rights, it is that once they give "Stocked Up" an irrevocable right, they cannot, logically speaking, grant anybody else an exclusive. Therefore, it is nonsensical, not to mention dishonest, to say that the photographer retains "all rights." They have what they did not give Stocked Up, nothing more. And they gave Stocked Up a lot.


Anonymous said...

Dear John:

Your continuing efforts to educate students, mothers with cameras, fathers with cameras, professionals with cameras and everyone who reads your blog will benefit from this subject. Those that dares to dream of someday being a professional photographer and wants to have it help them pay their bills and make a profit have come to the right place.

Add to that effort the sacrifice you make professionally by openly and honestly and to the best of your ability,holding people accountable is nothing short of admirable and I greatly appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

IMHO eloquence and cliche' know those words folks, because in this business it is how you can easily distinguish opportunity from NOT.

"the luxury of years of toil" ask yourself or your parents what "toil" means to them and if the word "luxury" could even be considered as a word to use in conjunction with toil as it is here.

"experience and notoriety" touche' on the cliche' side!

"a photo or two"? I think it was five being soliciated. Why not say five? or was the statement to be used to place a low value in the readers mind about their work? A cliche" of sorts or a play on the relative value a novice sets their worth is to the individual.

As in, "It's only 50 bucks or a thousand. Give it to my cause! Or do you think a photo or two isn't really of any value? It must have some value. Your entire profit margin and that of your publisher is based on that isn't it. I guess pictures do have quite a value.

"Worldwide audience" omg, the amount of money that you and your publisher will be make is astronomical with this many people you expect to buy this book. That audience, will it be an audience of people who will buy images? That's my market. Will they licence the images through me for their ad campaigns. I sure hope so, that's where the real money is.

That's right, forgive me. That's how you're going to make the profits by selling my images on a CD or DVD for the price of the book. That must be where the word luxury and toil meet. In your bank account.

Do I end up with "experience and notoriety" I forget what's in it for me. I know, maybe we could be friends and you could get me more customers that use free images.

I'll give you my images if you and your publisher give away the books how's that. Since you care so much about the contributors, how about a profit sharing agreement.

My humble opinion about the photography industry;

Lesson learned. My images have value I just have to realize that and keep my wallet pocket buttoned and throw away my feelings of insecurity or low self esteem lest I fall pray to someone from Nigeria.

Rich Green said...

I got to give Kristin Ellison credit for not hiding under a rock and actually thinking that her MO is okay.

Tyler Garns said...

Although we may not agree with it, its this kind of ingenuity and creativity that often makes capitalism works. Just goes to show you always need to read the fine print. If you don't read it and you still sign, your bad. Still doesn't make it totally right though.

Gavin ・ ギャビン said...

MarkW & Anonymous:

I suppose this should have been obvious. Thanks for turning my head around straight. :-)

Patrick said...

Well, I went to check out the site and it is showing nothing more than a blank start page.

They decide to shut up doors now that they have some photos?

Grab the loot and run is what comes to mind.

Kristin Ellison said...

There have been a lot of assumptions made about my character, my intent, and my actions on this blog, none of which are based on fact. Not one person has taken advantage of my email address noted above to try and find out the truth, including the author of this blog. I would like to clarify a few assumptions that have been made.

1. “Grabbing the loot and running” - The book has been cancelled, the site has been taken down, all images have been deleted from the server to protect the contributors (whom I deeply respect), each contributor has been personally notified by me, and I have mailed back their signed agreements.

2. Swindling Students - I sent out emails to professors (as seen above) notifying them of the project. I did not at anytime contact any students directly. If I had wanted to trick them into giving me their work under false pretenses, I would never gone through their professors.

3. Exclusive Rights – The publisher provided all the contractual language in the agreement and when I asked them if contributors would maintain ownership of their work, their reply was “yes”. Not being intimately familiar with rights issues, it did not occur to me to consider exclusivity. After learning of this, I changed the language on the site clearly stating that contributors would no longer have exclusive rights. All that said, everything was clearly and accurately spelled out in the agreement.

4. posting free ebooks without approval – Every book on WOWIO has been contracted for inclusion with the publisher, and they have provided WOWIO with the digital files.

I am all for public discourse and I have no problem with people either challenging me or disagreeing with me. I do have a problem with people writing on the web without fact checking beforehand. It is all of our responsibility to NOT become those people in town hall meeting yelling about “death panels”. If you are not 100% sure that you have all the facts, it is your duty to get them before publicly commenting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, John. I've passed your blog link on to my students and peers. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder of our rights and responsibilities.
- C

Anonymous said...

In defense of Ms. Ellison. People - like it or not, the market has changed. The days of taking pictures and selling individual prints to customers will soon be over. The perceived value of professional photography is falling. People have digital cameras and will demand JPGs. FACT. It's not about skill or art or fairness. Musicians have accepted that kids will not buy CDs and are responding to this reality by getting creative with new ways to market themselves. The photo industry is next. Adapt or die.

InPhilippines said...

.. and yet, the book has been canceled, so it would appear this blog post did do some palpable good.


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