Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

Selling Your Images

January 2nd, 2013

A Happy New Year to you!

We’re always looking for new outlets to which to sell fotoLibra members’ images, and between Christmas and the New Year we had a very interesting meeting with an extremely high-powered yet friendly executive who lives close by fotoLibra’s Hertfordshire office.

There is a vast European educational and public sector out there which is largely untapped by normal picture libraries because like most organisations funded with public money, Accountability & Transparency in Procurement are their watchwords. This inevitably means routes to market are not so much Jude The Obscure as Jude The Invisible — there is no way a company such as ours can ring up a representative from one of these monolithic organisations and mutter “pssst! wanna buy some images?” We couldn’t even find out who to talk to.

Everything has to take place through bureaucratic procurement procedures, grim, inflexible ordeals which are less concerned about the quality, range and variety of the images we have to offer than discovering the number of ethnic Welsh people we employ and our policy towards recycling hard disks.

By the simple expedient of not paying taxes, global corporations can afford to employ the sort of people who love ticking all these boxes, so they get flooded with grants, incentives and bonuses as well as three-yearly contracts to be exclusive coffee and image suppliers to the Ruritarian Public Affairs Ministry.

We struggle on. Thanks to our executive friend, we now have at least an inkling of the riches lying out there, just beyond our reach at the moment. But we have more contacts who understand this world far better than our simple viewpoint, and we believe they may be prepared to help us.

Like every other picture library, our sales have fallen over the past three or four years, and we are doing everything in our power to restore lost revenue and explore new possibilities. If our photographers aren’t making money, we’re not making money, so we need to find out about these overseas procurement procedures fast. Even so, our friend warned us “Don’t expect anything to happen for three years. This is the world of bureaucracy, after all.”

We went on to the website of one of these organisations and found this rather good and clearly explained guide to copyright for picture users in the EU. I should point out that this was discovered on the English-language subset of a foreign-language quango’s website:

Information for image users

    When will you have dealings with us? Virtually every publication, every website and every television programme uses images. Copyright law stipulates that the author’s permission is required for this. That permission is usually linked to a financial payment: image creators must, after all, live on the income from their creative labours. 
Apart from a couple of exceptions, publishers and producers are obliged to trace the creators of the images in order to ask permission for publication. The fact that this is not always easy does not detract from this obligation. Our agency enables the user to arrange this effectively in advance. Over 50,000 image creators both in this country and abroad are registered with us and we issue licences on their behalf. Our rates are harmonised with sister organisations abroad. Our agency arranges permission for publication.


    Asking permission is compulsory
 Users are often confused as to what they can and cannot do under copyright law. The golden rule is: anyone who wants to publish someone else’s image must ask permission for this from the creator or their heirs. This obligation only lapses 70 years after the death of the artist. Hence the work of Rembrandt is rights-free, but that of Picasso is not. Anyone who publishes a picture of a painting by Picasso in a book or leaflet without permission runs the risk of having to pay damages.

That’s nice and clear and straightforward.

Not every government announcement has to be draped in the cobwebs of obscurity. And this was English as a foreign language. I wish I could write as clearly. I think we could work with these people.

Whatever one may think about the UK Government, it cannot be faulted for its inclusive approach to pre-legislation consultation. fotoLibra, along with other parties interested or affected by changes in copyright legislation, has been offered the chance to comment on a working document of proposals to change the UK’s copyright system.

In fotoLibra’s case this directly affects our livelihood, and, by extension, not just the income but also the rights of our member photographers. We have to make our views known, whether or not we feel it will have any effect.

First, some practical considerations. The consultation document is over 50,000 words long, about the length of a novel, though not as pacily written. Then comes the consultation response form. This has 113 questions, each of which demands a full written response — no multiple choice options here.

So we can’t fault the process. We are being given every opportunity to have our voice heard, and in depth. My only quibble is my own indolence and my lifelong fear of exams. This looks like an exam paper to me. But I’ll have to buckle down to it.

If any fotoLibra members want points to be raised within the framework of the consultation document, we will be happy to include them in our response. It would be invidious of me to summarise the consultation here, so I’ll simply give you this link to it. I will be happy to include your opinions in our formal response, which we will have completed by March 14th.

Please send your responses to me by March 7th. They must contain the relevant question number from the Consultation response form. Here is a sample question from the form:

63. What do you consider the process and threshold for non-compliance should be? For example, should Government test compliance on a regular basis (say by following Ombudsman’s reports) or on an ad-hoc basis? What evidence would be appropriate to demonstrate non-compliance? Please give reasons for your response.

Any response without its relevant question number and any responses received after March 7th will not be included in our submission, and that includes comments on this blog. UK subjects only, please.

We get more questions about copyright from fotoLibra members than almost anything else, and we are no position to answer them definitively. Copyright law is complex and difficult to interpret without expensive legal assistance. Although lawyers and other people (such as us) may offer views on the meaning of the law, only the courts can set precedents through their judgements; and as we all know, the law means great expense. However well-meaning and fair-minded the new law intends to be, justice will go to those with the deepest pockets.

There’s no cloud without a silver lining. The pathetically low fees now being paid by picture buyers mean that few people are making enough money from their image sales to attract the attention of predatory lawyers. So for the time being this copyright law, such as it is or will be, probably may not be troubling us unduly.

When we become rich and successful, that’s when we can expect Mr Lionel Hutz to come calling.

Yesterday we sold an image for a large amount of money, bought off the site by credit card.

As always, we were delighted — until we saw the image. It was a very jolly and colourful cartoon in a style reminiscent of the 1970s. I thought Blimey, this photographer is talented! He can’t half draw!

And then a little shadow of suspicion crossed my mind. This cartoon looked like the work of a commercial artist from the 70s, not a talented photographer from the 20 teens. We looked at the photographer’s portfolio. As well as his photographs there were several images which demonstrated a bewildering variety of artistic talent, from etchings to cartoons. In a number of different styles.

Now fotoLibra prides itself on being an open access picture library. Anyone can upload anything as long as it passes our technical Submission Guidelines (and isn’t porn, of course) and the photographer adheres to our terms and conditions.

One paragraph reads as follows: (The Member warrants that) it owns the Intellectual Property Rights in the Images and licencing of such rights shall not infringe any third party’s right to privacy.

In our expensive lawyerspeak, this means fotoLibra members are only allowed to upload images which are their copyright, or in the public domain. In the UK, copyright persists for 70 years after the death of the creator of the work. So the work of artists who died before November 24th 1941 can be sold on fotoLibra, unless their estates have extended the copyright.

We go on to say that if someone sues, we’ll dump them faster than Gaddafi shot up a storm drain, or in more lawyerspeak: fotoLibra shall in no way be liable for any breach by the Member of the warranties and the Member hereby indemnifies fotoLibra from and against any and all claims, liabilities, damages, actions, proceedings (including reasonable legal fees and expenses) that may be suffered or incurred by fotoLibra which arise out of or in connection with such a breach.

Our chastened member has removed the offending images. In turn we have grovelled in front of the innocent purchaser, rent our garments and refunded his money. He has been more than magnanimous in his understanding, and we hope he will be buying a different (and even more legal) image from us.

How wonderful some people are.

Please please PLEASE do not upload images for which you do not hold the copyright. And immediately delete from your portfolio any such images. We’ll delete them when we find them, as well.

But it’s YOUR responsibility.