One-Off

January 26th, 2016
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

It didn’t make the News at Ten but a seismic news event has just occurred in the picture industry,

Corbis, the picture library set up by Bill Gates, has been sold to Visual China Group and henceforth will be distributed by their former arch rival Getty Images.

I’m not really an industry commentator, more of an industry worker, but I can see this will have a massive effect on the picture buying world, and not necessarily all bad. If you want an industry commentator, Will Carleton of Photo Archive News is the tops.

Minnows like fotoLibra can’t possibly compete with this megabehemoth on price or range. We have nearly a million images, a number which when we went into business a dozen or so years ago would have made us a monster.

And unless we stop paying contributors — we have no intention of so doing — we can’t compete on price with microstock agencies or with special deals done by Messrs. Corbis and Getty.

Where we can make a difference is with unique one-off images, photographs which can’t be taken again, the reason we set up fotoLibra in the first place. We wanted to access the photographs in your attic, your shoe box inheritance, the stories of all our lives.

Of course we were swamped by the digital revolution, but we struggle gamely on. We do tell all you fotoLibra contributors that historic images are really popular and remember, anything taken before the year 2000 can be uploaded to fotoLibra without any charge. At all. Ever.

If it’s in a box in your attic, you’re paying its rent. If it’s in a digital file on fotoLibra, it could be helping to pay yours.

We sold a photograph to News at Ten last week. It was an old photograph of a castle before the recent floods. Getty and Corbis hold huge curated collections, not one-offs like that.

Who’d a thought it?

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The fotoLibra site was down from about noon on Sunday 17th January to this morning, Monday 18th. Apologies for that. The problem was down to domain name system renewal propagation, which has now been sorted out.

When we started fotoLibra back in 2004 we got the fotoLibra.com website, and we had to pay some company in America to point people towards it — to make sure that an IP address, a series of numbers, in our case 77.240.1.218, would resolve into fotoLibra.com. We paid them for two years. Hey — we didn’t know if we’d still be around in 6 weeks, let alone two years.

Two years later we were pretty confident. Things were going well. So we renewed the DNS service for another ten years.

And promptly forgot all about it.

Yesterday, when we logged on to fotoLibra and saw a holding page offering the domain name fotoLibra.com for sale, our first reaction was outrage. The second was self-blame. We contacted Network Solutions to demand to know why we hadn’t been told. They assured us they had sent renewal notices on November 30th, December 11th, December 28th and January 11th.

They were not able to reveal the email address to which the renewal notices had been sent. I see all correspondence through the email box we registered with Network Solutions, and I saw nothing. Of course, it could have landed in Junk. I get about 600 junk emails every day and before deleting them I speed scan the senders to ensure I haven’t missed anything I recognise.

Which reminds me — if you contact fotoLibra and you haven’t had a reply within 24 hours (longer at weekends) please send your email again, because it may have fallen into the Junk folder.

Anyway, because they hadn’t heard from us, they cut us off. I was watching Harlequins vs the Cardiff Blues when our technical development manager rang. “The site’s down. DNS service not renewed.”

It was then we discovered that our broadband service was also down. I couldn’t get on line, I couldn’t see the site. I rang our ISP, the wonderful Zen Internet, to hear a recorded message to say the Crouch End district was suffering an outage. Outage? Outrage!

So the elderly 3G phone was pressed into service, and I finally, after long delays and several hours picking through a tiny keyboard, managed to renew our domain name system. User names, contact details and passwords all seem to have changed over the years, but we managed.

Then comes something called DNS Propagation. It takes time to circulate info across the world wide web, and as I write the fotoLibra site is up and running on my computer here in London, on Network Solutions’ computers in the States, but not on Yvonne’s computer across the room from me.

It will all have resolved itself by 9pm GMT at the very latest.

I’m very sorry about this. It’s not my fault but I feel I’m to blame. To stop this happening a second time, please could you all make a note in your diaries to email me in December 2025 to remind me to renew our DNS through Network Solutions?

Many thanks!

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Well, that might be pushing it a bit, but I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that.

We take care to vet every image uploaded to fotoLibra. The first hurdle of course is quality; images must have a minimum pixel dimension of 1750 and a resolution of 300 ppi. (PPI and DPI deniers — I know your arguments, but the  majority of fotoLibra sales are for print use and they need to be 300 dpi). If you read this blog about PPI/DPI you’ll see that one of the reasons we demand 300 ppi is to prevent porn being uploaded.

We hadn’t thought of drugs.

Someone I’ll call Eugene had. He appears to be from the Ukraine, but that’s easy to mask. What he did was very simple and (I’m reluctant to say it) quite clever. He simply uploaded photographs of drugs to fotoLibra and offered  them for sale. In the Image Description field he wrote “Ve vant to build strong lasting relationship mit customers like you” and followed it with a Skype contact.

Ingenious. Had the images remained on fotoLibra they would very quickly have been picked up by search engines (all our keywords are indexed so search engines can crawl and find them easily) and anyone searching for, say, Hygetropin on the web would have been able to find it nicely displayed on the squeaky clean fotoLibra site together with handy details of how to purchase it.

We spotted the images within an hour of upload. Not much discussion was needed. We simply deleted them.

Yvonne (and if you’ve had dealings with Yvonne, you’ll know she makes Jacqui Norman look like a pussycat) wrote to our hopeful new member:

Hello Eugene

fotoLibra is a professional picture library selling image usage rights to publishers, advertising agencies and so on. We are not a shop window for online drugs’ salesmen; we have therefore removed the images from your portfolio and cancelled your membership.

Regards,

Yvonne Seeley

Curses! Foiled again!

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

fotoLibra promises to pay our contributors within 30 days of receipt of payment. But there’s a big difference between selling a picture and getting paid for it.

On June 17 last year a London council got in touch to say that they were looking to purchase an image from us. They asked us to please fill in an attached Supplier Form so they could set us up on their finance system.

We filled in the form and sent it back to them the same day.

On April 24 this year the council got back in touch, saying “We are finally ready to purchase an image for our new museum.  As soon as we have your quote I will raise the purchase order.”

We confirmed the price quote the same day.

On April 29 the council wrote “We’re having a few finance issues but hopefully we’ll get them sorted soon and send you a purchase order.”

The purchase order arrived on May 8 and the image was immediately supplied to them.

We invoiced the council on May 18. They got in touch to say the invoice had been forwarded to the accounts department “who can take up to 30 days to make payment.”

On July 21 — 57 days later — we chased them for payment. “Sorry for the delay, I’ve chased it up for you,” was the reply.

On August 27 we chased them again.

There was no reply till September 2, when we were told “Finance are claiming it is not their fault, but a problem with the finance software. So I am chasing the people who run the software. Sorry for the late payment.”

The same day our purchaser got in touch again to say “Apparently I need to raise a new purchase order as the last one was incorrect. There’s no need for you to create a new invoice.”

Again on September 5 she wrote “The new purchase order should be approved on Monday. No need to invoice again.”

On September 22 we sent a copy of our statement to the payments address.

On September 30 we wrote to them saying: “We still haven’t seen any payment. Please give us a contact in your finance department.”

Immediate auto response: “I no longer work for ***** Council. Please resend email to blah blah blah.” The email was resent.

5 October: We sent a statement of overdue account.

No reply.

On October 20 a physical letter was posted to the Finance Department quoting both purchase orders, the invoice number, a copy invoice and description of the work.

No reaction.

On November 3 at 13:20 we contacted the Finance Department and the Purchasing Department to ask why we had received no reply to our emails or letter. “Unless we receive payment of £*** within 15 days we will initiate court proceedings against you,” we suggested.

A reply came from the purchasing department at 15:43. ” Very sorry, please accept our apologies. We are unable to forward your invoice to our Finance Department as they can only process invoices they receive from you directly. Please forward your invoice to the Finance Department at this address” [giving us an address we’d never seen before].

So we sent the invoice to the new address quoting both purchase orders, the original and the new one.

BIG mistake.

On November 5 we had an email printed in red. “Invoice rejected for payment due to insufficient information. Purchase Order Number not present, not clear or invalid.”

We immediately sent a revised invoice quoting only the second Purchase Order Number.

They responded on November 16. “Due to the time relapse [sic] could I re-audit your bank account details. Can you provide details on letterhead signed by person in authority in PDF format. [no question marks]

This was sent 3 minutes later.

On November 17 they replied “I have audited your account and removed the payment hold. Your invoice should be selected in the next payment run. This should be tomorrow, so the payment should be with you by next Monday.”

That’s Monday November 23rd.

Our breath is bated.

Welsh Government Grants

September 2nd, 2015

We’ve just been asked by the Welsh Government, as a recipient of a Welsh Government grant between April 2012 – 2015, to fill in a survey.

The survey wanted to know our experience of receiving Welsh Government grants and the support services around that.

Fine, but we haven’t actually received a Welsh Government grant for over ten years. The last time we applied, in 2013, this is what happened:

We were promised a grant by the Welsh Government towards a conference and exhibition in Berlin. Fortified by the promise, we booked the conference. When we returned we filled in our documentation, and we were then informed precisely how much we were going to be awarded in grant aid towards our costs.

However when it came to paying out the promised grant aid, the Welsh Government saw that we had booked half-price airline tickets just before the grant had had final approval. If we had waited we would have had to have paid more in air tickets than the grant covered. But this allowed the Welsh Government to renege on its promised grant.

So unless you’re a wealthy Chinese or Korean company who can afford to pay experts experienced in squeezing grant aid out of provincial governments, there’s no point in trying to apply for a government grant. Small businesses will never create bulk minimum wage jobs in order for civil servants to be able to tick boxes, so you’ll be pleased to know we won’t be wasting your time with any more such applications in the future, neither will we be wasting ours.

So that’s what we told them in their survey. I wonder if anyone will pay any attention?

A Note On A Vote

July 23rd, 2015
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

On our last blog A Little Help Here I asked friends of fotoLibra to contact their MEPs to ask them to vote against the clause in the Reda Report aimed at restricting the freedom of panorama — the ability of photographers to shoot what they want, where they want.

Always being one to practice what I preach, I wrote to our MEPs as well. One replied as follows:

First let me say that UKIP MEPs voted against this. Personally I intended to vote against it but had to leave the chamber before the vote actually happened. I am sorry that I was not able to add my vote to rejecting this but circumstances intervened.

I hope that this will help you decide how you will vote in the proposed referendum on EU membership and that you will decide to vote to leave.

I could have done without the last paragraph, even though many fotoLibra contributors seem eager to sever ties with the Continong.

So I replied as follows:

I’m sorry to hear you were unable to vote on the issue, but I am delighted that the Panorama amendment was defeated.

For small businesses like fotoLibra it is crucial that the European market is as free and open as it possibly can be, and I will vigorously support our continued membership and increased participation in an expanding European Union.

He answered:

I am pleased to know you will be voting to leave the EU in the referendum.

Hello? Where did that come from? Does no one read anything any more?

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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

As you all know, I am an extremely intelligent person, with a brain the size of an asteroid.

But even my great intellect has stalled when faced with the concept for a proposed bill to be placed in front of the European Parliament. So I need your help.

The bill, put as simply as possible, seeks to restrict the freedom of panorama in all EU countries. The freedom of panorama, which you may not know you already possess*, allows you to take a photograph in a public place. That’s basically it.

But in a corner of your photograph might be the Louvre Pyramid, the Angel of the North, the Kelpies, the Sagrada Familia, the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Atomium — some structure that someone, somewhere, has copyrighted. Under this proposed law, that will make it illegal for you to sell or share your photograph. Full stop.

What I can’t get my head round is — “Who Will This Benefit?”

Governments usually pass laws to benefit themselves or some noisy sector of the community. Occasionally they benefit the public as a whole. The only reason governments build roads is to collect taxes from the people living at the other end (OK, that’s cynical).

But I really cannot see who can benefit from this proposal. The owners of the Atomium? They might make a couple of euros from selling their own postcards. Yet at a stroke it will criminalise hundreds of thousands of innocent photographers. Is that a good idea?

Of course the law will be ignored and flouted everywhere except the UK, where it will doubtless be enforced with Draconian rigour. But the authorities can be as unpredictably vindictive as 14-year-old girls, and this is one more arrow for their quivers.

Île de France MEP Jean-Marie Cavada proposes to restrict the freedom of panorama in all EU countries, intending to limit the impact of “American monopolies such as Facebook and also Wikimedia” and serving to protect “a sector of European culture and creativity”.  fotoLibra contributor Catherine Ilsley writes “I can only conclude that his aim is to reduce EU regulations to the lowest common denominator. This is unacceptable in my opinion as it takes away established rights enjoyed in other countries.”   In the UK the freedom of panorama is permitted under section 62 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. The proposal was stapled to a motion tabled by German “Pirate Party” MEP Julia Reda and apparently was not at all what she had proposed.

Predictably, the UK media was outraged: “Now EU wants to BAN your photos of the London Eye and the Angel of the North!” screamed the Daily Express.

A letter in The Times last Friday, signed by luminaries of the British photographic world along with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, strongly protested against the proposed legislation — “If such a measure is adopted in the future, most websites and most photographers would instantly become copyright infringers with any photo of any public space which features at least one structure designed by a person that is either alive, or died fewer than 70 years ago.

Nevertheless the European Parliament is voting on the proposal on July 9th. Please let your MEP know how you feel about this move, whether you are for or against it, and ask how you can find out how he or she voted. In case you don’t know who your local MEP is (I didn’t), here’s how to find out:
https://www.mysociety.org/contact-your-meps/?gclid=CL7J3JeLt8YCFYPLtAodIvABDg

I’ve written to mine, and this is what I’ve said.

Dear MEP

On July 9th the European Parliament is voting on a bill to restrict the freedom of panorama —  the right to take photographs in a public place.

Effectively this will instantly criminalise hundreds of thousands of innocent photographers, from selfie seekers to the 40,000 members of fotoLibra, a picture library which gives photographers a platform from which to license their image rights.

It is hard to see who will benefit from this unnecessary piece of legislation; the vested interests run so deep they are invisible to the general public.

Please may I, on behalf of fotoLibra and its contributor photographers, ask you to oppose this legislation, which can serve no public good.

Many thanks for your attention.

Yours sincerely
Gwyn Headley
Managing Director, fotoLibra

Please don’t copy and paste my words because these systems reject identical letters, but feel free to adapt them in any way you want. Let the politicians know how you feel!

Catherine Ilsley says “I intend to write to Mr. Cavada and my local MEP about this. I have already signed the petition and shared it on my personal / photographic pages on Facebook and on LinkedIn. In addition to mailing fotoLibra, I also sent the petition to the BFP and another Europe-based stock library that I contribute to. Next up are UK-based photographic magazines. I would welcome any further ideas as I’m not sure that I can do any more at a personal level.

Let’s all make a fuss about this. This is a needless proposal which can only hinder the great majority of citizens.

Here’s an example. Under Belgian law the following image uploaded to fotoLibra by Chr•s B•k•r is illegal, so please look away now if you are in Brussels:

Atomium

Atomium

This is what they want you to see — an image of the Atomium on its Wikipedia page:

The Atomium as it appears on its Wikipedia page

The Atomium as it appears on its Wikipedia page

*unless you live in the jack-booted juntas of France or Belgium, which already have laws which drastically curtail the freedom of panorama.
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The pulchritudinous chanteuse Taylor Swift attracted plaudits this week for defying the might of Apple, the world’s most profitable company.

She wrote “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation” (during Apple Music’s three-month trial period).

Her whole piece was packed with praise for Apple, but she resolutely made her point, and it worked — Apple backed down and will now pay artists during the initial trial.

Well done Taylor. The labourer is worthy of his hire. People need to be paid for their work. fotoLibra jumps on any and every attempt we see by corporations to dodge paying photographers their rightful fees.

Taylor Swift doesn’t need to pay photographers, apart from organised photo shoots, obviously. But we can’t help but notice the draconian conditions imposed by Ms Swift’s promoters on photographers who attend her concerts. Here are some extracts from her photographer’s contract (my emboldening):

“The photographs, taken in accordance with Paragraph 1 may be used on a one time only basis.
“You and/or your employer will be responsible for all costs related to the rights granted in this Authorisation.
“On behalf of yourself and the publication you expressly grant the perpetual worldwide rights to use the published Photographs for any non-commercial purposes (in all media and formats), including but not limited to publicity and promotion on their websites and/or social media accounts or pages.
“If you or the publication breach this Authorisation, all rights are granted herein will be immediately and automatically rescinded.
“If you fail to fully comply with this authorisation, authorised agents [of Taylor Swift] may confiscate and/or destroy the technology or devices that contain the masterfiles of the Photographs and other images, including, but not limited to, cell phones and memory cards, and the Photographs and any other images, and eject you from the venue, in addition.”

Ah, bless!

How To Be Cool

April 29th, 2015
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by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Last Thursday fotoLibra exhibited at fotoFringe at London’s King’s Cross. fotoFringe is the leading picture buyers’ expo in the UK, now that BAPLA has relinquished the Picture Buyers’ Fair after losing half its members to the recession. Over a hundred picture libraries exhibited.

We only had four definite appointments booked, relying on a lot of passing trade and the fact that we were offering a huge bar of chocolate in exchange for business cards.

None of our four scheduled appointments showed up.

It would not be an exaggeration to say we were disappointed. But the following day we were pleasantly surprised to see that Photo Archive News report’s lead image featured Yours Truly in full flow with a bemused picture buyer.

However one drop-by meeting came with an interesting story. Julian Jackson, a writer and PR for green and technology businesses, recently blogged about an academic study at the University of Minnesota funded by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), an American professional photographers’ organisation, which showed that professional photos create much more of an impact on readers than amateur ones. They used eyetracking to get an objective measure of how long 52 people looked at photographs from newspapers and news organisations. They discovered that professionally taken photographs scored a surprising 90% more ‘eyeballs’.

Meanwhile fotoLibra’s Yvonne Seeley told me that a couple of times last week picture buyers had muttered something along the lines of “wurra wurra wanna instagrammy sorta pickcher like, wurra, innit, yoknoworramean, like.”

This is not to decry the educational achievements of picture editors, all of whom appear to have double firsts in Art History, but rather to express their embarrassment in having to ask for “poorer-quality-style” images (albeit still at 300 ppi) in order to try and attract a younger audience.

We all know about level horizons, fill-in flash, f-stop effects, exposure — but some buyers are now actively searching for converging verticals, lens flare, focus failure, in a tragic effort to capture teen spirit.

It’s doomed. As an old fart, I can tell them. I remember very clearly being a teen, and one of the things that stands out in my memory is our instant group ability to spot (and laugh at) a fake. There is nothing an elderly 25 year old could write, say or do to make us believe he or she was 18 like us. It was sad, the way they tried to be cool, to ingratiate themselves with us.

They couldn’t take our pictures. We’d know right away. And we’d pity them.

And now it seems they were barking up the wrong tree anyway, because professionally taken pictures really do attract more attention.

Don’t pretend to be cool. Do your own thing, and be cool in your own way.