Millions of Photos from the Sygma Archive May Soon be Destroyed

In 1999 Corbis — privately owned by Bill Gates — paid $20 million to acquire Sygma, a legendary photo agency that was the largest in the world at the time. After the acquisition, the agency bled money and suffered heavy fines due to the mismanagement of photographs, paying $2 million at one point for losing 750 of one photojournalist’s photos. In 2010 the new agency, named Corbis Sygma, filed for bankruptcy after its debt had risen to €73m (~$100 million). Now the court appointed administrator of the defunct company is saying that millions of images in the collection may be destroyed after a failed attempt to sell them at auction.

Up to 12 million photographs by an unknown number of photographers are at risk, and they simply don’t have the resources to return the images to their owners. Hopefully someone comes up with a solution for saving these historical images soon…

The fire this time (via The Click)

Update: BJP is reporting that a lawyer for Corbis is denying that there are plans for any images to be destroyed:

The liquidator to our knowledge has not detailed what will happen to the images if the photographer who took them can’t be found, but he has not indicated any intention to destroy them, and suggestions that they will be destroyed are purely speculation and rumor. [#]

Image credit: 1961 by dovima_is_devine_II

  • Anonymous

    They can just give them to me for safekeeping… no point in destroying history.

  • Anonymous

    I find it hard to believe they couldn’t sell the images unless there was a minimum bid. There is definitely somebody out there who would buy them. Hell, I’d buy them for $1, and at least transport and store them. Where do I bid?

  • Andre Vospette

    M$ is trying to sell the archive by extortion. “Buy this magazine or else we’ll shoot this dog.

  • sbfw

    Give them to a university for archiving.

  • Jason

    It isn’t Microsoft, it’s privately owned by Bill Gates.

  • Irene

    Donate them to the Library of Congress. If they can collect tweets for posterity, why not something interesting?

  • Franz Taptanium

    Can’t believe Bill Gates would let them do that. At least they could digitalize them (there are machines which do that very fast) and make them freely available. I’m sure people would donate to a “historical pictures wiki website” with millions of old photographs.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder what the terms were. Sometimes I see an auction where I have to wonder what fantasy the seller is living in, too high of a price, too many strings attached, etc.

  • Steve

    I don’t understand this, “..they simply don’t have the resources to return the images to their owners”. If they didn’t buy these images outright and they don’t own the copyright, how can they sell them? If they did buy them outright and the copyright was transferred, why would they mention returning them to their owners?

  • Gannon Burgett

    “Up to 12 million photographs by an unknown number of photographs are at risk”

    I think the second “photographs” is supposed to say photographers.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for the catch! Corrected

  • Andre Vospette

    Are they not synonymous?

  • Andre Vospette

    Gates is doing this because he couldn’t sell Sygma for the asking price. Now, it’s less a question of “Oh, I get to own a defunct photo agency and it’s archives” than “If I don’t buy it, Bill Gates will destroy the images and no one will ever get to see them again.”

  • Jason


  • Jason

    That (or giving them to a uni as mentioned above) sounds like a great idea.

  • Andre Vospette

    Don’t be obtuse. Bill Gates’s management style has always about forcing people to make the choice he wants them to make.

  • Jason

    Absolutely, but you were talking about Microsoft. Microsoft doesn’t own the archive, Bill Gates does – they are two separate entities. Microsoft are guilty of many things, and I’m not a great fan of their business practices (or Google, etc), but they aren’t guilty of this. That’s all I was saying. If you have an axe to grind with them, then that’s up to you.

    That said, what Bill Gates is up to in this case is short sighted, greedy, and immoral, and it ought to be stopped.

  • Thomas Casey

    Give them to me, I’ll give them a good home.