Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Re-Stating The Value of Copyright

All too often I hear photographers justify giving away all the rights to their work, suggesting the images are worthless or next to worthless. Like grains of sand, over time, they can become a beach. How big of a beach? That depends.

Photo District News has done a great job of following Annie Liebovitz's trials and tribulations (Is the Leibovitz Archive Really Worth $50 Million?) and asked the question that a photographer who does not own their own images could never ask of themselves because the answer is obvious.

When you give up the copyright, or all the rights, the answer is $0. So, say you're not Annie, what is your work worth?

(Continued after the Jump)

Enter Manuello Paganelli. "Pag" spent many years in the Washington DC area before moving to Los Angeles to make his mark. Manuello has been a stalwart defender of photographers rights (and his own) for as long as I have known him. Manuello can take a great photo - he's a solid photographer to be sure. Pag isn't, however, Annie, Salgado, Avedon, or Newman. I'm not telling him anything he doesn't already know, but I am making the point that you Pag could be you.

He posted an interesting story about his experience generating $20,000 from images he made on assignment. The story is here - Done Deal Three Images Licensed for 20K, and is well worth the read, including checking out the photos, which he links to.

The point here - is that your archive - when you own all the rights to the work, is valuable. Just a few months ago, I did a portrait for a magazine, and the subjects' organization (a non-profit by the way) is looking to license the work - for the usage they are looking for, the fee that has been agreed to is $2k.

Copyright, and your ability to control what does - and does not - happen with your work is what separates you, the photographer, from a day-laborer. There's nothing wrong, of course, with being a day-laborer, unless you are creating images that other people are licensing and re-licensing and profiting from, and you are not a participant in that revenue stream.

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.


Rich Green said...

Copyright and copyright registration are very important. I register with the US Copyright office 90% of everything I photograph. I'm a very small blip on the radar compared to Pag, but I still like knowing that my work is protected just in case.....

Maria said...

Well said and very true.

This comment is directed at Rich Green, who commented above me. He (and others who believe copyright does not exist until registered) needs to read this:


I'm mostly a writer; photography is my hobby. The misinformation out there about copyright really gets under my skin. Everyone who creates copyrightable work should read the above-linked article. It's good and a fun read.

Rich Green said...

Maria, the reason why you want to "register" your copyright with the US copyright office has to do with litigation. Should you ever need a lawyer, he/she wants to know that your work is registered. Without it, good luck finding somebody. Also, it will effect your monetary outcome.

Unknown said...

Obviously he had to have a model release from Gary Player. Just curious if you know how much he had to pay Mr. Player out of his $20,000 for the rights to use his likeness commercially.

John Lee, Hollywood winner said...

A local TV station posted my video on their website, then refused to pay my invoice for $50. Should I sue to enforce my copyright?

I did subpoena the GM of that same TV station to testify on Friday in an unrelated matter, regarding a court order to ban my freelance/public access TV show from court, while his station is allowed to remain in court. My First Amendment brief is posted at PirateNews.org .

Walter Dufresne said...

Apologies to the great NYC IP attorney Ed Greenberg if I've expressed this badly or incorrectly: Greenberg has repeatedly said that small creatives get their works infringed by deep-pockets publishers because the publishers know that most copyrights are *rarely* registered *prior* to infringement. That difference -- knowingly infringing an *un*registered copyright -- allows them to settle for peanuts, to settle for fees often no greater than the licensing fee that they would have offered on the front end, anyway. And the choice to *not* register prior to infringement handicaps the creative who later seeks an attorney to work on contingency.

My sense is that the bigger myth (in the USA) is that all copyrights -- registered and unregistered -- are equally useful and enforceable. IANAL. Ed Greenberg is a lawyer.

Unknown said...

Hi there - we in New Zealand have peculiar copyright laws, however, our 2 trade associations use the AOP (UK) format for licencing work, which we as professional photographers use. By explaning clearly what the licence is and why we use it, we NEVER give copyright away. Magazines or others who demand we give copyright are turned down, we are STILL in business, albeit, its tough out there but we keep plugging away and grow!

Manuello Paganelli said...

Gosh I wish I had known that you wrote this before. For the last hour I had been searching for an old article written about me back in '94 or so in the Washington Post and found this instead.

I will say that it doesnt matter how small or large potato you are in the sack. We are all in the same bag. The main thing is to know and understand the value of your work.

IF a client wants to use your work clearly it has a value to them. But you gotta make sure that you understand that and used it to the max.
sjlocke I didnt have to pay a dime to Mr. Player. But you brought up a great point. It turns out that he is also the spoke person for that air plane company so any negotiation beyond the check I received was between him and the company. Even although I knew that he was the voice of this jet line in my contract there was a clause protecting me from any thing related to no having a signed model release from Gary P plus other issues re the use of my image.

John thanks for this article and hope it will help other folks out there.

Folks, keep on shooting but be patience and keep those ©

Manuello Paganelli
Los Angeles CA

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