Monday, August 4, 2008

Conde Nast, Encyclopedia Britannica - Selling "Their" Images

Over seventeen years ago, I was a young upstart photographer, and I was approached by Washington Life Magazine, a brand new magazine, to shoot for them. And I did. Black and White, color if it was to be a cover story. After a year or two of steady work, the publisher, who ran the business out of her home in DC sat me down. She did so seperately with every photographer. Divide and conquer. She explained her position quite simply.

Washington Dossier, a magazine that was started in Washington DC in 1975, and which folded in the late 80's, did not own any of the assignment photography it commissioned. She did not want to make that same "mistake", and wanted to own, outright, all the images she commissioned me, and others to produce.

I sat on her couch, in her living room, and contemplated my situation, as the grandfather clock ticked off the seconds, and the minutes passed. What should I do, I thought. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tick...
(Continued after the Jump)

I said to her that I understood her position as a business, wanting what she had been paying for for one use, and re-paying for re-uses, and further, to have an asset to value. But, I relied on my re-licensing to her, and I did not want to be in a position where she would become a photo agency, selling, re-selling my images - especially if I wasn't going to get a portion of those re-uses.

"We're not going to do that", she responded.

"But you could." I noted.

"We just don't want to have to deal with photographers in the future to re-use photos we hired them to take in the first place", she said.

And, on that point, I said "well, we'll have to agree to disagree, and while I respect your position as a businessperson to require this, as the person who would be responsible for providing that content, I just can't do that." That, is exactly what I said. And that was the end of the conversation. They've surely had a collection of photographers over the years who have signed those agreements, and that's fine for them. Not for me.

Over the years, I've seen many photo credits outside of Washington Life. An example By photographer Tony Powell, seen in this brochure for the Shakespeare Theatre.

They frequently appear on blogs, like TV Newser, here, and also of Sen. Harold Ford, in an an image here.

And when the Smithsonian had a fiasco on it's hands with a senior staffer who had allegedly abused her expense account, the cover photo and other images of their cover girl Pilar O'Leary got re-used with the photo credit of "Washington Life.", in many places, including the Washington Post, as seen here, and other places.

I have seen and heard colleagues try to justify their work for the likes of Vanity Fair, and other Conde Nast publications. Now, starting slowly, VF is selling prints from their past assignment work in their Vanity Fair Store, as shown here:

Those are very respectable prices - yet the photographers, atleast under the terms of the agreements they sign for assignments now, are not entitled to a dime from the sales of those prints. Next up will be more recent prints, you can bet on it.

So too, are images available for sale from the Encyclopedia Britannica image archives, as About The Image reported here. 55,000 images, over two-thirds digitized, and ready to e-mail to you!

When clients tell you they need all rights, copyright transfers, work-made-for-hire, and so forth, and tell you they'll never do anything with them "we just need to get all the rights...", it's highly likely they are mis-informed, or just not telling the truth.

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