Thursday, November 19, 2009

TEDx - Not Playing Fair?

TED - the group behind the Technology, Entertainment, Design events, is massive in scope, and contribution to the collective genius and information sharing in a way that is here-to-fore unheard of.

To grow the TED initiative, a one-time funding effort apparently evolved to create TEDx events in communities around the country. The website suggests "TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level."

Even you can host a TEDx event, just check out the guidelines here. All of the messaging in the "how to host" section is all about volunteerism. As for speakers, TED advises "TED does not help TEDx partners identify and secure speakers. TED does not pay speakers and neither should you." Hmmm, okay. I can say I've given my fair share of free speaking engagements. There's a hint of brand-building, where also on the TEDx page, is says "As a TEDx licensee, you are vested with helping to grow the TEDx brand." So, we are talking business here, right? For larger events (defined as 50+), sponsorships could occur. In the responsibilities section, it suggests "Soliciting sponsorship (if needed): If you're holding a larger event, you may require financial support from sponsors."

Ahh, so there could be money involved, somewhere, somehow?

(Continued after the Jump)

Further, TEDx events require you to upload photos to Flickr tagged "TEDx." However, according to the site here:
"Before you upload anything, you must confirm that all the images, music and video clips used in your speakers' presentations are cleared for re-distribution on YouTube and Getting the initial clearance is the responsibility of the speakers; collecting documentation of the licenses (and providing it to TED if necessary) is the responsibility of the host."
Ahh, yes, once again, the value of intellectual property and rights clearances arises. Nice of them to respect that.

As of right now, there are over 7,000 photos tagged on Flickr with TEDx, as seen here. So it is with these insights now shared, that I wanted to bring up that a colleague and friend of mine tweeted out a month or so ago that TEDx was coming to Baltimore to host a TEDxMidAtlantic event, and they were looking for volunteers. I challenged the notion of shooting the job for free, and my friends response? "The whole event is being done on a volunteer basis. They're not even charging admission." When I asked of the venue "Is the lighting tech or AV tech at MICA working for free? Is the security guard there working for free? Is the electric company donating the electricity to light/cool the building?" I was met with the response "Maybe people should just never volunteer for anything, ever again." Well, I have it on good authority that one group of people got paid - the three videographers working the gig.

Set aside the donation of the space by the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the people organizing the event (a salaried employee of the Baltimore Sun by the way), and even the speakers, who all donated their time. Why is it that the videographers got paid a fair rate, and the still photographers had to do it for free? That just doesn't seem fair. Photographer Christiana Aretta uploaded 479 photographs from this event, engineering student Jeff Quinton uploaded 34, and student Seth Nenstiel uploaded 29. It looks, from my review of these three top image providers, that Aretta covered the event like an assignment, and surely, she should have been paid if her motion-picture-producing counterparts were paid. Why wasn't she?

In the end, I didn't see the benefits of providing to an organization intellectual property that would be disseminated far and wide long after the speakers left the stage, yet your images are part of the ongoing benefit enured to TED that requires that your images fulfills the obligation of the host who is "...vested with helping to grow the TEDx brand." It's now just salt in the wound that video apparently got paid, stills apparently did not. Aretta looked like she did a professional job, as did the video team, with 19 videos, as seen on YouTube here. I call shenanigans on the payment front.

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.


Unknown said...

Interesting. As I sat watching TEDxMidAtlantic, I assumed that Christiana Aretta was being paid because of the amount of time and effort she was putting in. It was a long day, and photographing was work that did not allow her to view the event.

I attended the event primarily as a viewer, volunteering to take photographs out of interest and as a thank you for the help I received gaining entrance to the event late in the day.

I would not have asked to be paid for such an event in part because of my interest in the event and in part because people hosting the event are people who I respect and who hold other similar community events throughout the year that are made up of volunteerism.

Besides we are being paid through the people we meet at the event, receiving recognition online through hundreds of views and blogs using our images, future work, and good will of the people.

James Madelin said...

BRAVO ! i'm a fan of the TED series, but cannot agree more. funnily enough, i've always guessed that the photography of TED events is either underpaid or sourced for free, as you can often hear the sound of low/mid range SLR shutters in the background of the TED podcasts. hearing any shutter click at all is an annoying distraction and something that a good professional photographer would avoid, and in my mind it tinges the otherwise excellent TED concept. well done highlighting this issue more assiduously.

Walter said...

seth said "besides we are being paid through the people we meet at the event, receiving recognition online through hundreds of views and blogs using our images, future work, and good will of the people."

@seth - recognition online, blog views, future work. they have no value unless they arrive. in the mean time, an investment is made in equipment, training, taking photographs, making selections, processing, tagging, resizing, uploading, travel, etc.

free photography is speculative with no guarantee of return. considering others were paid, the photographer should be paid. they have business and living expenses that don't get excused just because they volunteered their services for free.

sponsors can pay the costs of putting on the event so that attendees still get in for free.

i would also suggest that free use in blogs is yet another way you lose out. those bloggers are making money from advertisers on their blogs. your images attract viewers to those blogs. that gets the blogger more money from their advertisers. why not get a piece of that payment.

citizenstein said...

Hi, Lara Stein here. I'm TED's licensing director and I oversee the development of the TEDx program -- from its core guidelines to the growth of the community of licensees that participate in it.

I've read your post, and I understand what you're saying. But I wanted to emphasize, first of all, that TED is a not-for-profit organization. We created the TEDx program to encourage the spread of ideas, freely, around the globe. As you may know, our library of over 500 free talks is still growing.

Also, I hope it's clear that TEDx licensees do not pay TED for their licenses, nor do they pay TED to use the TEDx brand. In return for use of the brand, we ask that TEDx events be free of charge to those who attend these fantastic events.

Now, as you've seen on our website, TEDx licensees are allowed to find sponsors to cover hard costs -- though they quite often pay for the hard costs themselves. If a licensee does attach a sponsor, the decision about who on the event staff is paid, or not paid, is up to each individual licensee. TED has no hand in that.

I also wanted to mention how amazed I am -- how personally grateful, too -- for the incredible network of volunteers who continue to willingly give their time and effort to help educate and inspire others. I think I speak for TEDx attendees, licensees, too, when I say so. This photographer is one of those incredible people -- and clearly a standout in terms of her photographic skills, too.

I thank you for your input. It's certainly something we will be discussing as we continue to refine the program guidelines. Please contact me at if you have any questions.

John Harrington said...

Laura -

Thank you for your comments. It is important for you to understand that photographers all the time hear from organizations that are not-for-profit, and how that is a justification for a lower rate or a volunteer situation. I understand that there are some organizations that truly embody the not-for-profit status that the IRS deems them to be, however, that's all it is - a tax status. When heads of organizations makes six-figure salaries, and then expect photographers to do work for free or cheap, it just doesn't ring fair or true. Since I am not familiar with the pay structure for those at the top of the TED organization, I can't specifically comment on that, but I would caution anyone with paid top organization executives to be mindful of how much they are asking of others to donate free IP when execs are paid. Coverage of the MidAtlantic TEDx event should have been somewhere between $500 and $1,000 depending upon how long and who you got to do it - especially when the video team got paid.

Fairness and equity is what is being called into question here, not how great TED and the ancillary programs are. There is no doubt that the TED efforts are doing good things in many areas, however parity needs to be high on the priority list, and please be sure to honor the IP of the photographers by not demanding all rights or work-made-for-hire when you contract with them in the future.

hpc said...

Great blog and wonderful images. I teach on a few photography holidays around the world and I will definitely be recommending this blog to my students.

Andre Friedmann said...

Guidestar publishes TED's annual IRS Form 990 through 2007. TED pays half a dozen staffers six-figure salaries, and another million or two to several consultants, along with production expenses for conferences. TED is a good, thriving business. Maybe TED's media consultant (six figures in gross revenues from TED in 2007) advised them to procure free licensing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Christiana Aretta and I just stumbled across this post today. A little late, I know. Kinda wish the original poster or any of the commenters had gotten in touch for my thoughts. Nonetheless, here goes:

I offered to help with TEDx at the invitation of a friend, who told me that everyone was volunteering. When I did the initial walkthrough of the building with the TEDx folks, I was told that everything was being done volunteer - the photography, the video, etc. At that point, thinking everyone was in the same boat, I was fine with covering the event for free. I like the TED idea and didn't have a problem with supporting it.

I advised the person in charge of the videography & photography, that 2-3 photographers would be ideal. At this point, I was not expecting to cover the entire event (although I wasn't surprised that they couldn't find another photographer to help out) and was told several times that a second photographer would be coming as well. The second photographer turned out to be from bmore media - she came for two (of 20) presentations late in the day, took the shots she needed for her article and left.

I found out the day of the event itself (and sadly not from any of the event organizers) that the videographers were being paid. I also found out the day of the event that my name didn't appear in the program or even on the screen at the end of the program saying thank you to the volunteers. Other than comments on the flickr photos and on my blog, I've never received any wider recognition - I'm not even mentioned on the TEDxMidAtlantic site.

I've done work for nonprofits that have been happy to pay me and I've done work for nonprofits for free and had good experiences with both. My experience with TEDx was less than ideal - I donated 30plus hours of shooting and editing time and brought 10K worth of my own camera equipment - in return for essentially nothing.

(Except for the screaming fangirl moment I had when Joel Salatin asked me what time he was due on stage. That was pretty great.)

If I could make two suggestions to the organizers about photography, it would be these:

1. Be honest with your vendors. Finding out secondhand that other vendors are being compensated despite being told otherwise made me feel like a sucker, lied to and taken advantage of. It is, at the very least, uncool and poor business practice. And, at worst, dishonest and negligent.

2. If you are lucky enough to find a professional photographer willing to work a 12-hour day for free, spend another 20some hours editing and processing and license the images for use under Creative Commons, reward their effort - thank them on your website, thank them in your program, thank them on the big volunteer shootout screen at the end of the show and thank them by appropriately placing photo credits adjacent to their images that you use.

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