Buyers Increasingly Seek Broader Image Rights

Posted on 3/10/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A survey conducted by The British Photographic Council revealed a rise in client requests for copyright or very broad rights-transfers when commissioning or buying images, without a corresponding increase in fees. The pressure on photographers to accept these conditions has also increased, with photographers reporting significant losses of income to this practice. Though this survey was limited to the U.K., the wealth of anecdotal evidence, online discussions and media coverage suggests that the situation is much the same in most markets—and is increasingly prevalent in light of current economic conditions.

Over three quarters (82%) of photographers responding to the survey said their clients seek to acquire copyright or equivalent license. Almost 74% of respondents said this practice has increased over the past five years.

While some responding photographers think that this is rooted in the lack of client understanding of the copyright law or industry practices, many suggest that clients knowingly pursue this course of action. Some photographers attempt to negotiate for higher rates, but with marginal or no success. One survey respondent said: “Some companies will only consider you for work if you agree to sign over copyright. And [this is presented as] ‘company policy’, which cannot be over-ridden by individual art buyers.”

This rise in client demand for additional rights has had a significant effect on photographers’ income, with 76% of respondents reporting a decrease in revenues. For 56% of the survey respondents, such decrease has ranged from moderate to significant: $18,500 on average, with individual photographer estimates of income lost to more extensive license assignments or copyright transfers ranging from $140 to over $200,000. (The mean value of respondents’ answers to this question was £13,349, with individual figures ranging between £100 and £150,000.)

In addition to the practice of clients requesting broader rights for the same fees becoming more popular, clients are also increasingly pressuring photographers to accept such terms—by promising the photographers future work or threatening loss thereof. According to 61% of survey respondents, the latter tactic is more popular.

The industry segment most susceptible to such pressure is editorial photography (newspapers, magazines and other publishers), said 29% of photographers. With a respective 22% and 16%, public relations and advertising are in second and third place. One survey respondent said that the practice is more common to “direct clients. Most ad agencies worth their salt actually know what they are doing and what the rules are.”

The survey also highlighted an increase, at least in terms of responding photographers’ perceptions, of copyright infringements. Close to 72% of photographers have noticed a rise in such instances during the last three years. Responses to related questions once again highlighted long-known difficulties of tracing infringers and recouping lost revenues, as well as the complexities and costs of pursuing legal action. Though 23% of respondents said they always recovered payment and 22% said they were paid in more than half of the cases of infringements they pursued, the majority of respondents photographers (74%) did not feel that the amount received was fair compensation for the cost of the original infringement, their time and the legal costs of pursuing it.

The survey was conducted among members of the eight organizations that comprise The British Photographic Council: The Association of Photographers, The British Press Photographers’ Association, the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, Chartered Institute of Journalists, Editorial Photographers U.K., Pro-Imaging, National Union of Journalists and the National Association of Press Agencies. In total, 1038 photographers responded to the survey.

Copyright © 2009 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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