In the past weeks, I have had so many conversations on Reijo, rights grabbing, Sanoma et al. contracts… People are eager to know what is going on, but they are somehow totally lost in this. And the moment I try to explain it in abstract terms… I see that nervous flicker in the eyes – you know what I am talking about: when the other person politely listens to what you got to say but does not register a word…
So I thought: I make this “Rights Grabbing 101” – and explain with three hypothetical yet concrete examples – all from my own work during the past couple of weeks – what would have happened had I signed a contract such as the one Sanoma News and others are aggressively pushing.
What Do They Want?
They want me to sign a contract if I want to work for them.
This is a three point simplified list – had I signed such a contract – I would have agreed upon:
- All the work I do – i.e. each and every picture I take while working under contract for them belongs to them. They can use it where ever they want – print, web, iDevices, TV – as much as they want, where ever they want – without notifying nor paying me anything for this. Globally.
- Now and in the years to come, they own all the rights to this material. They can make books, magazines, web-presentations, documentaries, they can sell the material/images further as extensively as they want to – and keep 100% of the revenue it possibly generates.I cannot display anything publicly without consulting them first. If I want to make a book, I have to ask first if they instead would like to make it – and consequently let them keep all the possibly generated revenue from this publication.Should they for whatever reason want to prevent a picture or a set of pictures from being published, they have all the rights and means to do so.An extremely rigid interpretation would be that I could not enter – say World Press Photo competition with my pictures – or anything similar because: should I win, I would have to give limited publishing rights of the winning image to the organizer – something which I could not do (as I would no longer have any right to do so). I have to admit myself though, that this example is a bit far-fetched… , but purely technically, this is the case.
- Should there be any legal controversy when they publish my pictures (anywhere, without notifying me) I would be held responsible for any consequences the use of my images might generate – if it could be argued that I had been careless, sloppy, or something similar.
The publishers demanding these give “justification” for the first two points usually by: “well, you have to understand, times are tough…” and “you understand, we have to prepare for the future…”.
The third one – i.e. legal consequences – they try to wave off as “a mere formality which never would be used in real life.”
My academic answer would take several pages, so let me summarize it into one word:
Ok, let’s make it two words: Total Bullshit.
Or to make it sound a bit more educated, let me make reference to professor Jeff Jarvis from CUNY and his talk in New York about a year ago: “This is total bullshit!”
But: I save that academic argumentation for a later day. Today I simply try to show with three examples – nothing more – from my own work during the past couple of weeks – why I consider working under such “rights grab contract” a total impossibility and a ridiculous endeavor.
Case 1: Finland vs. Sweden Track and Field Competition
So I am covering a track event, early days of September. Two days of sports photography. This is what I do for a living. Annual Finland vs. Sweden track and field competition in Helsinki.
I get an SMS from my client “The shorts of Finnish ladies team are real small, can you get a pic?”. I sigh – this is not kind of stuff I enjoy doing – but: it’s my client asking and they pay the bill so I quickly shoot couple of images. Don’t think more of it, but send them and continue my work.
Late at night I notice their website. My full figure shot has been aggressively cropped and the image is used as a “conversation opener” in the website: “Vote yes or no, if you think these are too small….”
With my name in the byline. I sigh. Sure, real nice. And yes, frankly, I’m pissed off. I really do not enjoy seeing my name in such context.
BUT pay attention: it’s only my personal pride – or vanity – which is hurt. They have done nothing wrong. They hire me, ask me to do, I deliver. Simple as that. If I don’t feel comfortable with it – well, it’s my problem, right? My choice.
Then the photo chief tells me: “ You did know, the girl is only 14? And her mother got really upset about that pic?”
Pause. Shit. Now, think carefully: What if…?
What if I had worked under Sanoma et al. -contract? What if it was not a Finnish athlete but – say – an american? I would be sued faster I could say the first syllable of “I’m sorry I did not know”.
Traditionally the responsibility in publishing is with the publisher. But: was I negligent, because I just shot and sent an image of a cute butt in tight shorts – as asked by my client – and did not compare the bib number with the starting list which has the birth year marked? Does that classify as carelessness?
I’m sure there would a legion of money hungry lawyers ready to argue that it does indeed and that I had caused serious damages…. say worth 10 000 or 100 000 euros ?
Would the publisher pick the tab or do the litigation for me – or would they just wave the “contract” under my nose finger pointed at words negligence and carelessness– and go on business as usual. Take the next eager freelancer for the next gig because they just had an opening in sports photography…
Case 2: A Book on Photography
During the past couple of weeks I have been selecting some images to go into a book on photography. I have the privilege of being presented next to some top photographers in the world as somebody specialized in sports photography. I think I’ll have maybe 4-5 pictures in this book.
On the right you see a mock-up of one of the spreads in this coming book (the layout published here under permission). You might recognize the image, I posted it earlier this year in this blog as an example of what I considered a good image at the time .
Now: What if…?
What if I had worked under Sanomat et al. -contract when taking this image. I could not sell my image (although it was never even published, but I sent it to my client) – and consequently, it would not be used in this book. The person authoring the book would never have found the image, as it would have drowned under thousands or millions of images in the publishers database. And if for some luck of God he would have found it – and if the publisher/rightsholder would have agreed to sell it for a reasonable price – I would not have been even notified of this – let alone being paid.
I’m sorry – call me greedy or control freak – but I think there is something wrong there.
Case 3: Rock Summer 1988 Multimedia
I have been raving about the experimental multimedia I did for YLE Teema in my previous posts. I was twenty-seven years-old, independent freelancer when I shot those images. Same images I used now, twenty-two years later to create this piece of work. Same images which played a very central role in the documentary which was on in Yle Teema about a month ago.
What if I had worked under such a contract in 1988? First of all, the documentary “Eesti Vabaks!” would never have seen the light of day. Why? Because the “rights holder” would have seen the historic value of these images and set such a price that the small production company commissioned by YLE would never had had the means to purchase those rights – even if the “rights holder” would have bothered to dig out and agreed to sell those images in the first place. A very probable scenario would have been either a) no documentary or b) a stolen idea by the “rights holder” to do something similar – as they now had both the idea pitched at them and all the material – both free of charge.
What about the multimedia? No question about that: it would never ever have seen the light of day. Why? I can imagine the people in charge of selling images and their reaction when I would have approached them saying “I want to do something experimental and I need the original c. 1000 negatives for scanning so I can publish it in the web for free – as an experiment.”
I mean, they would have laughed their heads off and continue telling this incredible story of this stupid, ignorant freelancer who wanted to have such an amount of images – for free? I mean seriously, who did he think he was?
I could go on and on about this. And there are other repulsive aspects of this whole conversation – if you can call it that – which I have not touched here. Big issues touching concepts such as freedom of expression, what this means to a democratic society, etc.
But these are big words. What I really wanted above is to illustrate the fact that we are not talking about a minor formality which can be brushed off with “oh just sign the paper and continue as usual – this is just something for the lawyers to keep them quiet…” – which is something people working for these publishers have been quickly whispering to the less seasoned, younger generation of aspiring freelancers.
I chose the three examples which first came to mind from my own limited world. I probably could have come up with half a dozen more looking at my own personal work during the past couple of weeks.
So could each and every one of us working as professional freelancers.
I could start discussing the importance and complexity of IPR… but I would lose my audience pretty soon. It sounds so complicated – and it is complicated.
Just remember this: the concept of copyright exists for a reason.