Protect The Greatest Gift You Have as a Still Photographer

Photographer Rodney Smith writes that the greatest gift possessed by still photographers is under attack like never before:

So dear photographers, others before you fought hard and long to give you a gift. And although everyone from corporations, to magazines, to art buyers try desperately to take it away from you, I implore you not to give it away.

Most of you are young and feel the need to work, and feel powerless against larger forces. You do not realize that when you get older, having the rights to your own work will be the best gift you have as a still photographer. It will help you when you need it most.

[…] The pressure is on. The economy is awful and people will grab what they can get away with. I implore you to stay strong and fight hard for what many other photographers, over the last 50 years, have fought hard to give you; the right to own and control your own work.

What Is A Picture Worth? (via APhotoEditor)

Image credit: Nimoy Present Toss 2009 by Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary Wolves

  • Sharoncampagna

    There will always be a photographer that will give up the rights to their images. I think that we have to perfect our skills in negotiating.

  • Free Photos

    This is ridiculous. It is like a chef asking people to stop having dinner parties since it takes business away from restaurants. If your work is not better than a hobby photographer don’t complain about commodity pricing.

  • David Wigram

    Confused.  What exactly is his point, and why did you repost?  

    Copyright is still assigned to the photographer last time I checked so I don’t see the problem.  Which photographers are giving away their rights?  What is this moral erosion he seems so afraid of?

  • Michael Zhang

    Hi David,

    Smith is talking about the fact that more and more clients are demanding not just rights to use the images created by the photographer, but the actual copyrights to the images themselves.

    Another example might be what’s happening to many concert photographers who need access to the shows, but are asked to give up the rights to images made:

  • Michael Zhang

    Here’s the example he gives:

    “In the early 1950′s, LIFE Magazine decided that the pictures that were shot for them by many wonderful photographers were their property and therefore, they had the right to re-license them. The photographer’s thought otherwise, and insisted that the photographs were their property to resell at their discretion.

    This went to court and after a long heated battle with TIME-LIFE the photographers won the battle. The courts decided that the copyright remained with the photographer and the magazine had just licensed reproduction rights. The original property, after the contract was concluded, returned to the photographer along with the negatives.”

  • erlik

    For instance, all the photographers at concerts who meekly accept the right grab by bands. (Or bands’ managements, more probably.)

  • Anonymous

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!
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  • Anonymous

    Where do we stand if its work commissioned by someone else?  If a client pays me for a job, although technically I might own the copyright, the images are effectively theirs to do with as they please.

  • erlik

    Work for hire is a distinct category within copyright law and has to be defined as such beforehand, I’d say. And it helps to have a contract clearly stating what you are shooting the photos for. If you’re shooting for their brochure (or whatever) it doesn’t mean they can use the photos wherever and however they please. Unspoken agreements are the worst kind because people usually mean different things – “We thought you shot the photos for us to use as we wish!” and “I thought you would be using the photos just on your website!”

    There should be no “thinking”…

  • Richard

    This post doesn’t take the issue (an interesting and complex issue, by the way) any further than the original.

    Why not list the various scenarios as you know them that might blur this issue:

    As michaelp42 states above: commissioned work is a more complex instance and needs at least an informal agreement between photographer and client about rights and use of images taken.

    I do a lot of commission work for artists and to the one, we all agree that each side (them and me) can use the images in any way we like as long as each party cites the other and the use helps spread the word on both.

    What I tend to frown on is when my photo work of a client’s artwork is printed on a crappy printer with crappy paper and then talked about as “my work.”

    I do fine art printing so the print is part of my “brand” and while I always appreciate being cited, I’d rather not be cited in connection with a less than wonderful print just because I took the image.

    So, I make it a point to tell clients that if they want to distribute print material (not mass production but a few nice prints) I’m happy to do it for them.

    This is not to make money on the deal like wedding photographers who control all printing, more to simply control the way my work is seen by other potential clients.

    Anyway, its an interesting question that needs to be fleshed out more in the post, less in the comments.

  • Rob Perks

    With that in mind, would anybody out there enter a photo contest with a satement like this i nthe rules?:

    “Entrants retain their ownership and other rights to their photos except that submission of a photo constitutes the irrevocable right to Sponsors of all rights in the photo, all rights to use, copy, sublicense, edit, modify, make derivative works, publish, exploit, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, publish, delete or display the content of and elements embodied in the photo and the photo itself, in whole or in part, in perpetuity in any and all media (whether now existing or hereafter devised) without limitation, and without consideration or acknowledgment to the entrant and the unconditional right to use the idea and statements about the photo for advertising/publicity purposes without additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. ”

    At least if you ever hoped to use the pictures again?

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