Posts Tagged ‘rights’

Opening Up Stonehenge

October 25th, 2010

The public reaction to my previous blog posting Stonewalling Stonehenge has been remarkable, and understandably the majority of comments have been in favour of the rights of photographers.

I wanted to address each individual comment in turn, but there were simply too many for me to cope with and keep fotoLibra ticking over at the same time. So firstly I want to thank everyone who took the trouble to make their points. Over 10,000 people, among them BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, read the comments, and PM invited me on air to discuss the subject. Eddie Mair gave us four and a half minutes (the piece is about 40 minutes into the broadcast). The story was picked up and repeated (with varying degrees of accuracy) in blogs around the world.

By the way, I know some of you think Jacqui Norman wrote this, but in fact the writer is Gwyn Headley, the founder of fotoLibra. Jacqui writes the fotoLibra Newsletters and the Picture Calls. Rather than adding to the comments on the original blog, I decided to lay out my subsequent thoughts in this second posting.

In this economic climate I do feel it is ambitious of property owners to ask for a commercial photography fee from photographers upfront, unless exceptional access conditions are granted in return.
But the strength of feeling against English Heritage surprises me. I almost find myself in the invidious position of having to defend them.

First of all, English Heritage is a wonderful institution doing an amazing job with diminishing resources in the face of hostility from both the public and the Treasury. One small thing that would make a big difference to their ability to cope would be the removal of VAT on building repair and conservation work. But our politicians and tax officials are too craven, indifferent or greedy to allow that minor concession.

Like all organisations, English Heritage will have its fair share of zealots, jobsworths, and staff who are plain barking mad. They can be rigid, bureaucratic and inflexible. They will retreat behind barriers of obfuscation and legality. But behind it all their purpose is simple: to do their best to preserve the threatened, imperilled heritage of England. In Wales, we have Cadw, banished by the Welsh Assembly Government to a prefab on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Cardiff, so highly do Welsh politicians regard our heritage. Scotland has Historic Scotland, about which I know less. They all suffer the same slings and arrows.

My parents, living in a Grade I listed house, were not allowed to change their bedroom wallpaper. It was a Chinese print dating from the eighteenth century, and it needed to be preserved. We had no problems with that.

There is always the danger of the Taste Police stepping in and obstructing development, but when there is pragmatism and understanding on both sides a mutually agreeable solution can usually be thrashed out.

I remember with sadness the wonderful Art Deco Firestone Building on the Great West Road in London. It was listed by English Heritage, but being office workers they tend to go home at 6 o’clock. At 6:05 on a Friday evening, the bulldozers went in and by the time English Heritage officials were back at their desks on Monday morning the fabulous, unique Firestone Building was a pile of rubble. The slimeball developer was fined the maximum — £5,000.

But let’s get back to photography and the rights of photographers — specifically fotoLibra members — to photograph what they like. In a free country (and I don’t believe there is any such place, on this planet at least) people should be allowed to photograph what they can see. How you subsequently use that image is up for discussion.

It would be unwise, unjust and unfair to use a photograph of an innocent stranger to promote a commercial product, or to illustrate an editorial piece on the perils of drug abuse, sexual perversion, or any other rabble-rousing indiscretion. The person concerned could sue and would quite possibly — or would certainly deserve to — win.

I might think it tasteless to commandeer Stonehenge to promote some commercial service or artifact, but we’ve been worrying this bone for six days now and there doesn’t seem to be a thing anyone could actually do about it in law.

So instead of issuing poorly worded and hastily thought out decrees which have the unfortunate effect of getting up everybody’s nose and giving bureaucracy a bad name, why don’t organisations like English Heritage open a dialogue with organisations like fotoLibra and see if we can work together towards a common goal?

They want to preserve our heritage (and so do I) and we want to sell more images. I’m sure we can do a deal.

I’m picking up the phone right now.

We recently received the following email from English Heritage:

We are sending you an email regarding images of Stonehenge in your fotoLibra website. Please be aware that any images of Stonehenge can not be used for any commercial interest, all commercial interest to sell images must be directed to English Heritage.

It’s kind of them to think of us, but this raises a number of questions.

Firstly, what legitimacy do they have for this claim? Is there any law that states that it is illegal to use images of Stonehenge for any commercial interest? Can someone direct me to it?

Secondly, if an image of Stonehenge is so used, how could they possibly police the usage? A quick browse through a number of rights-managed and royalty-free online picture libraries produced the following:

iStockPhoto (a US owned company) has 513 images of Stonehenge
Fotolia (US) has 648 images of Stonehenge
Dreamstime (US) has 670 images of Stonehenge
Shutterstock (US) has 737 images of Stonehenge

All the above sites sell images on a royalty free, unrestricted usage basis. If anyone buys a royalty free image from one of these suppliers then he’ll be using it as, where and when he likes, without asking English Heritage’s permission. How will they stop that?

Alamy (UK) has 1130 images of Stonehenge
GettyImages (US) has 860 images of Stonehenge
Corbis (US) has 426 images of Stonehenge
fotoLibra (UK) has 223 images of Stonehenge
Photo 12 (FR) has 114 images of Stonehenge

These are mainly rights managed. Rights managed images are essentially designed for a specific and time limited usage, and they’re more controlled and controllable than RF images.

Has every picture library with images of Stonehenge received this email? If we really are breaking the law by selling images of Stonehenge to be used for any commercial interest, then of course we will cease and desist immediately. However nothing in the National Heritage Acts (1983, 2002) which brought English Heritage into existence refers to their right to prevent the sale of images of any of their properties. In any case it must be legal to display them for sale if we intend to sell them for non-commercial (i.e. editorial) rights-managed usage.

If English Heritage wants to stamp out the unlicensed, unregulated, unlimited usage of RF images of Stonehenge they will have to talk to the people who hold those sorts of images for sale. In a large number of cases they will find that the picture libraries or stock agencies who hold these images are owned by foreign nationals who are not subject to British jurisdiction, who are based overseas, who have no connection, emotional attachment or even necessarily fondness for the United Kingdom.

Why the hell should they listen to a powerless quango which wants a slice of their profits? English Heritage is the current custodian of Stonehenge. It has been their responsibility for 27 of the monument’s 4,500 year old history. And they want to own the image rights to the site. (BTW It’s well known in the Headley family that our great x 170 – grandfather Elfis carved the stones for Stonehenge out of the Presley mountains in Wales, so our claim to the site is far longer than English Heritage’s nano-ownership (o.oo6% of the lifetime of the henge)).

In a recent blog post I noted the plight of a property owner in San Francisco who took the HSBC Bank to court for using a photograph of his house in a promotional leaflet without his permission. He lost, seven times over. That doesn’t set a strong precedent for EH or the National Trust or indeed any owner whose property can be seen from public land. Google Earth and Google Maps have pretty clear images of the place, as well.

OK, English Heritage’s email did not ask us to remove the images of Stonehenge from fotoLibra. But they did use imperative, urgent words like ‘can not’ and ‘must be’. I am ready to be proved wrong, but I don’t believe there is any legal substance behind the request. How can there be? Look at this:

Photo © Clive Morgan / fotoLibra

What if we photograph the place from the air? What law can we possibly be breaking here?

While we’re looking at Clive‘s photograph, who built that ugly tarmac footpath cutting through the sacred ring?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Types of Buyers

April 13th, 2010

Every business offers discounts for bulk purchases, and fotoLibra is no exception. Workers can’t be expected to make decisions for themselves, however, so management usually imposes a sliding scale of acceptable discounts — 5% off for a dozen, 10% off for a gross and so on to tares and bushels and other wonderful weights and measures.

All very well, but some people are always compelled to try and knock the cost down further, whether by pleading, demanding, bullying or negotiating. Whether that’s in their nature or they are commanded to behave like that by their bosses, I have no idea.

A price is a price, and I feel it should be respected. I am deeply uncomfortable in souks and other environments where you are expected to haggle. My haggling skills are zero. Yet I have a good friend who proudly boasts he has never paid full price for anything in his life.

I am also deeply suspicious of ads offering me “50% OFF!” 50% off what? A price which was inflated by 100% in the first place?

But at fotoLibra I’m a seller, not a buyer, so because we know the process can be uncomfortable, we try to make it as easy as pie to buy. I have gradually discovered there are five distinct buyer types:

1. The Wham-Bang

2. The Global MegaBuck

3. The Dealer

4. The Mendicant

5. The Great Honour

The Wham-Bang comes to the fotoLibra site, finds what it wants and buys it. Job done. We love them and we want to have babies with them. All Apple customers are Wham-Bangers. You don’t see many discounts on an iPad.

The Global MegaBuck won’t even deign to notice our existence because it already has tied up an exclusive contract with their pals at Global MegaPix to supply all their image requirements for £50,000 a year and they won’t be dealing with anyone else thank you very much. Then they decide they want a particular picture that only we have and are puzzled that we’re reluctant to sell it to them at the same unit cost that they pay Global MegaPix. So eventually they condescend to allow us a price agreement policy whereby their 1,447 picture researchers are permitted to search for images on fotoLibra. They usually turn out to be perfectly decent people, paying a fair price per picture as long as they can use it how they like.

The Dealer is constitutionally unable to pay the quoted price. “Can I have a discount on that?” or “What’s the best price you can give me?” or some similar tweet is its standard calling cry. No reason for this favour is provided. An offer of 10% often mollifies it, but slamming down the phone always works for me.

You can hear the Mendicant wringing its hands on the other end of the phone. “We’ve got a really low budget on this job, I know it’s a lot to ask but it will be terrific publicity for fotoLibra. Just this once? I know it’s difficult for you, it’s difficult for all of us at this time, heh heh, it’ll be so good for you, I’ll make sure there’ll be a big credit to fotoLibra, you’ll get lots of business …”

The Great Honour is the almost indistinguishable opposite of the Mendicant; it’s like looking in a mirror. “This is going to be so huge, you’re so lucky to be one of our favoured suppliers, now of course we can’t really pay you anything but we can give you a credit on 10 million copies in fifty countries, now you couldn’t buy that sort of coverage, go on, could you?”

The trouble is that apart from slamming down the phone I personally have no real mechanism for dealing with these approaches. I think I’ve worked out a strategy when all of a sudden the Dealer I’m talking to metamorphoses into a Global Megabuck before mutating into a Great Honour. Maybe I just don’t react fast enough.

My simple philosophy is that you get what you pay for. The only trick the microstock folk have taught us is that you persuade people you’re selling pictures for a dollar, then instead of doing that you sell them five thousand Credits — which may or may not be worth a dollar each. Yes, if you buy 5,000 crappy one credit images, they may cost you a dollar apiece. But who needs that many low-res, low-quality images?

It’s damn clever, there’s no denying it. There’s an offer to satisfy everyone. But the basic premise is misleading. It’s like the £5 flights on cheap airlines. They do exist, but it’s harder than you can imagine to profit from them.

You — almost always — get what you pay for.

The following blog posting was written by Chris Barton, managing director of PhotographersDirect.com. You can read the original post plus the comments it has triggered here.

We’re posting it on the fotoLibra Pro Blog (with his permission) because Chris has articulated the basic flaw in microstock and low value photography, and his blog needs to be read by photographers and picture buyers alike. When people don’t care — as these picture users clearly don’t — then cost becomes the sole criterion. Value means nothing.

Chris writes:

I was looking at a company website today, with the possibility of putting some business their way, when something I saw there made me cringe involuntarily.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, this one has a lot to say. It says microstock. It says perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image.

Why would a reputable company want to be associated with those words?

The problem with this image is that it has that…. ‘Deja Vu’ feeling to it, and for a good reason.

So, do these guys come as a package? Have they moved on from “Best of the Web” to form the Corporate Team at “123 Greetings”?

As you would expect from such a high powered team, they speak fluent German…

… and some oriental language – you could probably find out which one if you bump into them at the:

and of course they come with a:

Now, this may all just seem a bit of a joke, just poking fun at the short-sightedness of companies using cheap microstock images to represent their… well, image, but when it gets visibly misleading:

About us? They didn’t do a very good job of spotting this trouble on the horizon…

maybe financeme needs better financing if they don’t have any headshots of their own staff and can only afford microstock images…

I think that should read ‘Company Oversight’

…you end up questioning the credibility of the company itself.

I don’t believe these people really work at Targetti Poulsen…

…so why would I trust anything else that Targetti Poulsen have to say?

And if I am wrong and they do work there, are Targetti Poulsen aware that their ‘people’ moonlight at:

On a side note, ‘Bad Credit Cosmetic Surgery Loans dot co dot uk’ wins this month’s prize for “dodgiest domain name”.

My final example I think rounds off this topic in an appropriate way:

from their track record, getting these ‘good people’ to stay does not look promising…

Okay, so HireView Magazine used the same silly microstock image. But that photo at the top? That’s them. That’s the team at HireView. I am confident about that because it isn’t a perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image that has spread across the internet like a nasty virus. It is an honest picture, and because of that, I think I can trust HireView Magazine.

Which is more than I can say for the rest of these companies.

Companies need to think more carefully about the images they use. I suspect many businesses are unaware that the photos their designer has sold them are spread a-dime-a-dozen across the web. There is a good reason that microstock’s original catchphrase was “the designer’s dirty little secret”.

At the very least, reputable companies should look at using rights-managed rather than royalty-free images, so they will KNOW if the image is being used elsewhere and whether a competitor (or sometimes something even worse: “Cosmetic Surgery for mens, Get your Dream Shape like stars”)  is using the same ‘team’ to represent their company. Or maybe they should follow HireView Magazine’s lead and actually hire a photographer to take real pictures of real people who work at their company. They may not be perfect, they may cost a bit more, but they will look genuine, and honest. And not just… cheap.

Thank you Chris — firstly for your permission to reproduce your blog here, and secondly for your righteous indignation at the short term, penny-pinching attitude of so many organisations. To mangle John Donne: “Every microstock sale diminishes us, because we are part of the photographic community.”

Standards? What standards?

I really can’t get my head around microstock websites. The bit I can’t understand is why the participating photographers think so little of their work that they’re prepared to value it so cheaply.

Someone recently asked on a Canon forum “Has anybody had experience of using Fotolibra to sell pictures?” Having just helped send out over 100 sales notifications so far this week I thought I could answer that, but my application to sign up to the forum has not yet been verified.

Someone wrongly assumed fotoLibra was a microstock site and posted an answer linking to three blogs recounting experiences with these kinds of agencies. They weren’t universally positive. Out of interest, here they are:

Microstock Tips | Pixels Away | Erik Kolstad’s Blog

They are not right up-to-the-minute (the market has almost stiffened and died since these figures) but none the less I am astounded at how little these supplying photographers are prepared to accept. Have they no pride in their work?

One wrote:

I’m a climate scientist in Bergen, Norway. Starting in 2008, I have been contributing to a number of stock photography sites. I started out with iStockphoto, and after a while I joined Shutterstock and Dreamstime as well. Now I have quit Shutterstock, largely because of their ridiculous royalty scheme (they pay you $0.25 for each customer download). I’m currently trying out SnapVillage, Fotolia, 123rf.com and the German agency PantherMedia.

I couldn’t help but respond, although unfortunately I do sound a bit sniffy from time to time:

May I correct you? You are not actually trying out stock photography sites, you are trying out MICROstock photography sites.

Proper picture libraries such as fotoLibra.com sell fewer images than the microstock sites because we value the work of photographers more highly, and therefore charge accordingly.

You would probably only sell a fiftieth of what you could sell on a microstock site through fotoLibra.

But you would probably earn a hundred times as much.

Our average picture sale for a rights managed image is €56 / $77 / £51. Standard fotoLibra photographers get 50% of that.

So one fotoLibra sale would normally net you $38.50 / £25.50. That’s the equivalent of 154 sales through Shutterstock.

I think that’s a very compelling argument. I have no doubt the microstock apologists will disagree.

Here’s an index to the fotoLibra Pro Blog for the whole of 2009.

As I complained 6 months ago, it takes a surprising amount of time to compile, so if there are any WordPress experts out there who know how to automate this process, we’d love to hear from you.

If you’re new to fotoLibra, welcome, and may we suggest you read through the HINTS & TIPS section, and if nothing else read Great Expectations. If you enjoy a bit of controversy, read BAPLA Shock Horror.

Comments are welcome, even on old posts, and will be read and often responded to.

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Pricing conundrum

January 21st, 2009
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Setting prices, billing and collecting the cash is one of the most important services fotoLibra provides to its members.

Apparently for rather more than the cost of fotoLibra’s Pro Membership you can buy a software program that suggests prices if you’re selling photographs in the United States. That’s about all it does.

Unlike fotoLibra, it doesn’t store your images, promote them, sell them, deliver them, invoice, collect or pay you money. It leaves all that to you. I am lost in admiration for its business model.

We have 1,447 set prices for rights managed images, derived from a complex algorithm that takes into account Size, Circulation and Repetition. Embedded in this are other licences such as territory and duration. We cover most bases, but occasionally we find we’ve missed something out.

Like today, when we were asked for a price for an image that covered the following rights: editorial use; book; 5 year licence; single territory; 5,000 print run; half page; eight languages.

Straightforward — till you get to those eight languages!

What’s the answer? I’ll post our price here as soon as somebody makes an educated guess.

I wonder how that software program would have coped?