Friday, August 1, 2008
A Rant - Photographers' Rights and Photo Contests and a couple of good links
I think this is my favorite shot from the Page Museum in Los Angeles. The backlit display contains almost 450 dire wolf skulls recovered from the asphalt deposits of the tar pits. When I saw that deep orange glow and the graphic presentation of the skulls this image just jumped right out at me.
I found myself getting a little caught up in Photographers' Rights issues last week because frankly it bugs me that so many companies try to take advantage of amateur photographers who don't know any better. And it bugs me even more that many amateur photographers just don't care. Or, at least, they don't/won't care until a company uses an image in such a way that is in full compliance with the terms of an agreement but in a way that they photographer didn't foresee, such as a worldwide ad.
I don't participate in photo contests, but this one caught my eye so I went to the website to check it out. It was Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photowalk, a fantastic idea that sounds like a lot of fun and is generating a lot of enthusiastic support. However when a few of us read the terms initially posted on the contest page we pointed out that the license we were granting was a bit too broad, "...a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive right and license to use, copy, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, republish, transmit, disseminate, distribute, perform, and publicly display all content, remarks, suggestions, ideas, graphics, or other information in the Submission, in whole or in part, without additional approval, to incorporate any Submission in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed, in connection with this Site and Our affiliated web sites and publications...." that applied to all photographs submitted to the contest, not just the winners. Now, I'm sure that's not what Mr. Kelby et al meant, but that is what was posted on the site the first day it went live. The next day the page with the terms was updated and I believe the new terms are very photographer-friendly. I honestly think the first page was on the site in error and was just the generic terms for the website itself, not the contest. I am a bit peeved that Mr. Kelby poked fun at the whole rights issue in a later blog post without mentioning the fact that the terms had been changed/updated/corrected. I would've had much more respect for him if his blog post said "hey I know that some of you expressed concerns about the terms of submission...correct terms are now up on the site...blahblahblah..."
But when some of us pointed out our concern with the terms as initially posted, the backlash from other posters was amazing, and quite frankly eye-opening.
From Nate B.
"I’m not sure why people are complaining about the fine print."
From Carl C.
"Ignore the complainers… I just wanna have FUN!!!"
From Craig S.
"Hey i’m no pro, just a guy that enjoys shooting pics, and personally I’d welcome any exposure my images got. I dont get all the fuss over the rights."
My favorite from Jeff R., who proclaimed himself an expert because he recently blogged about this very issue, and then went on to say:
"also, they want to use the images as promotional tools in the future. I am pretty sure that if they personally called you and said “Hey Bob, would you mind if we used one of your photowalk shots in an issue of PhotoshopUser magazine?” that you would probably have no problem with that at all."
Ummm...actually Jeff R. I might have a problem with that. If it's to promote a future Kelby Worldwide Photowalk Contest, fine. If it's to promote something else or for an unrelated article, I have a standard fee for that use. How many people would buy a magazine that didn't have photos? (Yes, I realize that Photoshop User is only a benefit of NAPP and not for sale, but most people say that Photoshop User the only reason they join NAPP.) If you weren't willing to give away your photo for free, the magazine would have to either pay to hire a photographer or pay to license an existing (stock) image such as that one of yours that they want to use. That is why I read the fine print. I want to see what I'm agreeing to by participating.
My second most favorite was from the guy who told me I didn't know what I was talking about because he worked in radio for 3.5 years some time ago, and knows that by calling in to a radio station contest you automatically grant the radio station the right to use your name. Okay...I'm not really seeing the connection here between radio call-in contests and photography contests, and I've been making money with my photography for 27 years and have spent a little bit of time learning about the business end of it, specifically as pertains to the licensing of photographs, yada yada, but hey, he knows more than I do.
Nate B. then stated that it's just a photowalk,"it's not like we're shooting the lead story for Time or anything". Hmmm...but I get a lot of good images from just a "photo walk". I'm not sure that people fully understand that once they've licensed a photo as royalty free, it limits what they can do with the image in the future. Once an image has been licensed as royalty free, you no longer have the ability to license it as rights managed. That eliminates a huge potential sales avenue if you just happen to get that "money shot". And remember, as the terms were originally posted you gave away that royalty free license and soon as you submitted photo, whether or not you are a winner. And um, actually Nate B., while it may not be the lead story in Time, there is a reasonable chance that someone could take a photograph that might later end up in Time Magazine. Ever take a look at the photo credits and notice all of the stock images they use? From where/whom do you think they get them?
I understand that a lot of newer photographers and hobbyists are sincere when they say that they just want bragging rights, but I don't understand it. If your photo is good enough to be used to advertise something or in some other commercial manner, it's good enough for you to be paid for it. Maybe there is a misunderstanding in just how much money publications pay for photographs. Why are people so willing to give away something for free that could potentially earn them hundreds or thousands of dollars, and then think it's something that gives them bragging rights? I'm not saying not to give away any licensing rights, just understand be aware of the implications of the rights you are giving away. And don't be confused between copyright and licensing rights - they are two completely different things.
And in the long run, why is the younger generation of photographers so willing to take a short-term look at the business of photography? Even if you never plan to become a professional photographer, if you have the talent to take/make photographs that people want and you do so even occasionally, why not take the long-term point of view and help take a stance in preserving the value of photography? If you have the ability to earn even a couple of hundred bucks now and then, why turn your back on it, especially in today's economy? Why are people willing to give away for free something that is worth thousands? Why fight so hard for the right to take something that has value and make it completely worthless?
I've heard the argument that it's the new way of the world and we old folks need to just stop fighting it. Maybe I'm naive, but I honestly think it's because so many younger/newer photographers really just don't understand all of the implications and it's up to us "old folks" to help educate them. You see examples all the time - people talk about "selling" photos when they should mean "licensing" the photos because they just don't understand how it works. It reminds me of the kid who posted a photo of his friend on flikr with a Creative Commons license that allowed commercial use, then got all upset when Virgin Mobile (actually Host, their ad agency) plastered it all over bus shelters in Australia. Virgin Mobile had fully complied with the terms of the CC license, including attributing the photographer (the lack of a model release for the minor depicted in the photo is a completely different story). The kid never realized the implications of the CC license he chose; he could have earned a nice sum of money if he had licensed it as Rights Managed. Hard lesson to learn.
I can't help but think that twenty years from now some of these truly talented kids are going to wake up one day and wonder why they shot themselves in the foot by working so hard to ruin the value of a talent and assets they own.
If you participate in photo contests you owe it to yourself to read and understand the fine print, but sometimes it's a little tough to make sense of the legalese. One great resource is the Pro-Imaging site. The folks at Pro-Imaging have a lot of good information about photographers' rights and have developed a Bill of Rights for Photography Competitions. When they are made aware of a photography competition they will review the terms and if they believe them unfair to photographers they send the sponsor a Notification Letter. If the sponsor agrees to modify the terms in a way that meets the Bill of Rights they are put on PI's Right's On List. If the terms are not modified and the contest remains an unfair rights grab, the contest is placed on PI's Rights Off List. They ask that photographers worldwide make them aware of photo contests and there is a submittal form on their site. I have had some personal e-mail correspondance with Gordon Harrison at Pro-Imaging and I can attest that he is wonderfully helpful and a true asset to photographers everywhere. Take a look at their site. While membership is open only to professional photographers who have passed a portfolio review, they have a lot of good of information about photographers' rights available to everyone on their website.
Another great resource is Carolyn Wright, best known as the Photo Attorney. Her blog is a wealth of information about legal issues concerning photographers, including heads-ups on rights-grabbing photo contests. Today's post gives information on how to send a DMCA takedown notice, including an example letter, which you must use if you find that someone has "stolen" one of your photos and posted it on another website. If you'll take the time to read the Photo Attorney blog on a regular basis you'll start to realize all of the issues that you really should have a better understanding of if you even take your photography just seriously enough to post your photos on flikr.
Nothing else after the jump.