by Gwyn Headley
Every week fotoLibra gets requests from companies, charities, bloggers and individuals who want to use photographs — your photographs.
This of course is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately for you and me they have one thing in common. They all want them for free.
Oh, the reasons they give are wondrous and manifold; way above ‘the dog ate my homework’ level. They plead to our better nature, they claim poverty, they cite numerous examples of unparalleled generosity from picture libraries who modestly (and surprisingly) request anonymity, and, most common of all, “we’re a charity so we shouldn’t have to pay anything”.
I’ve just seen a correspondence between a Large Wealthy Production Company and a struggling musician. It makes fascinating reading.
I have redacted the copy to remove any direct references to the LWPC because their lawyers are undoubtedly larger and wealthier than ours, and anyway they don’t need the free publicity. ‘Xena’ is a made-up name. The only indicator I haven’t changed in the name of the musician, ‘Whitey’ N J White. I can’t find his blog at the moment, but I’m sure he would appreciate any messages of support you may care to offer. This material came from the excellent PetaPixel newsletter.
All I want you to do when reading the following correspondence is substitute the word ‘photography’ for ‘music’. Then see how you feel.
Thanks for emailing me, I have emailed your label but not heard back yet so thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately we don’t have any budget for music but would be great if we could use the track but it is up to you, but would appreciate anything you could do?
and now Whitey’s reply:
Firstly, there is no label — I outright own my material, so I’m not sure who you’ve been emailing.
Secondly, I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget.
So you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week — from a booming, affluent global media industry.
Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.
I am a professional musician, who lives from his music. It took me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I’ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on earth; from Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.
Ask yourself: would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resumé like that, and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing?
Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.
Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not.
Because culturally, we classify that as theft.
Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot — from the caterer to the grip to the extra — even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.
Now let’s look at you. A quick glance at your web site reveals a variety of well known, internationally syndicated reality programmes. You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows.
Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt, you have real money. To pretend otherwise is an insult.
Yet you send me this shabby request — give me your property, for free. Just give us what you own, we want it.
The answer is a resounding and permanent NO.
I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians [and Photographers — Ed.]
This was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.
N J White
And the one thing Xena from LWPC Inc left out was “Of course, we’ll give you a credit. It’ll be great publicity for you, because we’ve sold this project to 597 planets across the universe. You should be SO grateful to us!”
What can we say? Thanks A Lot.
And well said, Whitey! N J White is hereby awarded the 2013 fotoLibra Award For Speaking Out.