July 3, 2012
Casting around for ideas for today’s article I turned to twitter and asked what people might be interested in reading about.
Twitterer @drinckx alerted me to this little internet storm surrounding AFP photographer Joe Klamar’s photos of the US Olympic team.
From what I can gather, and for reasons not entirely clear to me, it was decided there should be a three-day photo session during which all the US athletes would be photographed on a tight rota by a selection of photographers representing different agencies, all working in mini studio booths at a location in Dallas, each photographer photographing every athlete in turn. Take a look at Vernon Bryant’s blog on the Dallas News and you’ll get the picture.
Now I’m no expert on the reasons behind the set-up. I would have thought it more sensible to have one or two top-end photographers shoot a set of well-crafted images suitable for pool use (one agency required to share images with all the others). Perhaps it was a way to save money, but the set-up sounds like a nightmare to me, with each photographer having approximately 4 minutes with each Olympian. With over 100 athletes to photograph, a Herculean task you might say.
The general consensus is that for Klamer at least, something went a bit pear-shaped. The results look rushed and un-professional, and yet if you find other examples of Klamar’s work he’s a good news and sports photographer. Maybe nothing spectacular, but what is known in the industry as a ‘good operator’. The problem is, now you’ll have to search hard for anything other than criticism of him such has been the rush by those who know nothing of these things to jump in and take pot-shots at him. Armchair photographers thinking they could have done better with their iPhone have comprehensively clogged the search results.
Looking at other examples of Klamar’s work it seems AFP may be at fault here in putting him forward for a task for which he was ill-equipped. News and sport appear to be his areas of expertise, and yet he was put in a studio that even studio photographers might have struggled with – very little room for lights or expansive and expressive poses. Other photographers did manage, but that would suggest they were more suited to the task.
I’ve seen comments suggesting Klamar’s images are meant to be ironic, stripped of slickness and cliché. Well I’m not convinced. If there is a message at all, the images could represent Klamar’s anger at the ridiculous set-up of the summit photo sessions. The tiny booths, the speed with which shots had to be rattled off. His background becoming torn, his lighting rarely being right, background edges in plain view. If he was being brave (rather than just out of his depth) he may have been saying “this set-up is rubbish and I will not pander to the idiots that organised it.”
One thing I am convinced of, this photo-me booth, conveyor belt arrangement cannot have been conceived by a photographer. This is the work of someone with a clipboard and lots of pens thinking they understand what a photographer needs. Yes, other photographers did a better job, but I bet they weren’t delighted by the reduction of the task to a series of snatch images. But if you take a good photo in rubbish circumstances you cant complain because the client will always say “but the photos look great, what are you complaining about?” Which rather misses the point.
For now Klamar’s reputation is somewhat tarnished, but I think he’ll recover once the interest moves onto something else. Maybe a cat playing the piano will distract people back to what the internet was made for.
May 3, 2011
The parallels between the photographic industry and farming aren’t as obscure as you might think.
Imagine Getty are the Tesco/Asda/Sainsburys of the picture world, where the suppliers of the produce they sell have little control over the price they’re paid for their goods, regardless of the cost of production.
There are only so many outlets for farmer photographers, owned by some very powerful businesses that will set the selling price to wherever they think they need to in order to gain market share and make a profit.
I mention profit, but I’m not sure if Getty (who also own iStockphoto) are in profit for their stock photo portfolio of businesses, and reliable figures seem elusive, but they’re certainly good at spending whatever money they have on expansion plans.
One advantage farmers have over photographers is that they are paid for their produce by the wholesalers or retailers who then sell it on for a profit, while stock photographers give their work to the libraries for free in return for a commission, but only if a photo sells. And a photo might never sell, or might only sell for a few pence, of which the photographer might get a few pennies.
By way of leaving the farming analogy to one side, I’d like to say I have the utmost respect for farmers and I’m glad they do a job many of us couldn’t cope with.
The news that Getty have now acquired the Australian stock image library Photolibrary, close after the announcement that they’ve also acquired image-tracking firm PicScout, means Getty are still aggressively expanding and consolidating their business, but you won’t see photographers jumping for joy and I think in time neither will picture buyers be especially delighted.
Getty will want to see a return on their investments, so it may be we can expect them to switch the PicScout phaser from stun to kill as they target image infringers and recoup their money through either higher or more numerous payment demands.
As for their buying up yet another image library, what possible advantage is there to a business or a designer that they can now choose from an even larger library of the same old same old? Surely once you’ve seen one sterile business picture, you’ve seen them all. Getty can’t claim to have extended buyer’s choice any more than Heinz can claim to have extended our choice of baked beans by making more tins of the same beans.
It also appears that Getty are looking to turn the screws once again on their contributing photographers by introducing terms that mean Getty will be able to move images from Rights Managed to Royalty Free licensing, with no mechanism for contributors to opt-out of such a scheme. This leaves contributors with less control over how their images are used and the prices set. For buyers, it will mean even less exclusivity, making stock imagery even less attractive than it already is.
That final point probably explains the rise in enquiries I’m getting from businesses that are wanting to break free from the herd and be noticed (back to farming!), but I’d rather Getty used less aggressive tactics anyway because they don’t reflect well on the industry as a whole.
It’ll be interesting to see where all this activity leads. If Getty want to take a lion’s share of the market with a view to pushing up stock image prices, they may find this is a very long game indeed. I’m sure they have a plan, but in this world of over-supply and finite demand, it’ll have to be a very cunning plan or a game with infinite budget.
UPDATE: ASMP makes thinly-veiled suggestion to American photographers that if they contribute to Getty, they should consider other means of distributing their images (in other words, quitting Getty). More at PDN.
January 4, 2011
If you’re on Twitter, you’ll know what I mean when I say that some new follows can be a little odd and surprising. Take my recently acquired new follower @BoycottGetty as an example.
At first glance I was hopeful that this was a new movement formed from designers disillusioned with the banality of stock imagery; a return to the values of using real images of real people for truly interesting design. URR! URR! WRONG!
It turns out @BoycottGetty is an anonymous twitterer with an equally opaque identity at an online petition hosting site (see Boycott Getty Images!) with a mission to get Getty Images to change their approach to dealing with people who, wittingly or otherwise, use Getty-managed photos without paying for them. Quite why they’d want to follow me, I can’t work out.
Boycott Getty Images (BGI) don’t like the current tactics used by Getty to chase copyright infringers because they feel they’re too belligerent. This may be so, and I’m no fan of Getty or its micro-payment subsidiary iStockphoto (anyone who has followed my blog for a while will know I don’t much like stock photography in general), but the alternative solutions suggested by BGI make no sense, unless one assumes that the person or people behind BGI have been caught using unlicensed Getty images and are a tad hacked off at being asked to pay up.
Let’s look at a summary of what BGI are demanding, then you’ll see what a nonsense his/her/their campaign is. From BGI’s petition website:
“This petition demands that Getty Images immediately cease its highly unethical extortion practice before another innocent US citizen is intentionally harmed, and announce the implementation of new copyright protection technologies & business practices that are consumer friendly, protect their photographers copyrights and benefit the general public at large.”
The petition sets out these points more fully on the site, but this is a pretty good precis of the thrust of their arguments, so let’s unpick what they’re saying here.
For one thing, I suspect the author of this petition decided to remain anonymous due to the “legally dancing on thin ice” nature of the opening sentence. Using phrases like “unethical extortion” and “intentionally harmed” strikes me as dangerous, considering how readily Getty likes to threaten legal action, but perhaps they’ll let this go as the angry ramblings of an irrelevant campaigner with an axe to grind.
The author mentions the “implementation of new copyright protection technologies,” but as of the writing of this blog article no such technologies exist, and even in the paragraph dedicated to this point the author doesn’t seem to know what these technologies might be. Furthermore any technologies that do exist are useless once a paying client has bought, unlocked and published a photo on their website. From thenceforth the photo is subject to the same copy and paste problems as any other image on the internet. Getty would still have to search out and demand redress for images used without payment.
BGI demands that Getty adopt business practices which are consumer friendly. Does that mean like making millions of photos available at penny prices for anyone who wants to legally buy them? Or are they seriously suggesting Getty should stop demanding payments from people who steal their assets?
And here’s a contradiction; BGI wants Getty to “protect their photographers copyrights.” They say they don’t know if the compensation moneys collected by Getty from infringers is shared with the photographers, but firstly I suspect it is and secondly it’s not any of BGI’s business. That’s between Getty and its contributors. What they actually call for is wider use of Take Down notices, which would mean photographers get nothing for the infringing use of their photos, except the hassle of having to deal with infringements. No protection there then.
This final point is quite strange: “benefit the general public at large.” Ignoring the tautology in that sentence, is Getty Images some kind of humanitarian organisation now? What other corporate giants should we demand general public (at large) benefits from? Microsoft? Walmart? The Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe? Dream on, Sunshine.
Although the Boycott Getty Images name seems misleading in that it doesn’t directly boycott the buying of Getty images (just their issuing of legal letters), the site is linked to www.zyra.info which is campaigning for people to avoid using Getty-licensed images altogether. I’d applaud this concept except that the alternative ideas put forward on that site are nuttier than squirrel shit.
So to @BoycottGetty, I say sorry, but I won’t be following you back. Your ideas make as much sense as a pocketful of baked beans, and this weakens your case considerably. You’re welcome to follow me though. You might learn something useful.
November 16, 2010
Photography on the internet is so pervasive that we take it for granted. But it’s worth remembering, it wasn’t always thus, and need not necessarily ever have been so at all had it not been for parallel developments. A potted history:
In the very early days of the web, most of what you saw was text-based. Then came porn. Then came interactive Web 2.0 when you could upload your own content, and BAM! Photos absolutely everywhere. More porn than you could shake a pink stick at. More photos of kittens, sunsets and dandelions than you can find grains of sand on the beach. In fact, for every star in the Milky Way, scientists believe there are at least 16 photos of orange-faced, bleach-toothed, American executives sitting in the Getty/iStockphoto archives right now, and this figure is set to double by 2020. OK, I made that up, but believe me there are a lot of photos on the web now. A lot of them of men in suits standing randomly in a field.
But for there to be photos on the web, there had to be some way of capturing photographic images digitally, and here’s quite a coincidence.
Around 20-odd years ago, someone built a machine which allowed press photographers to turn their processed film negatives into a digitised version which could then be transmitted over phone lines from anywhere with electricity and a phone connection. The (extremely expensive) machines were built into a sort of suitcase, weighed a ton and the whole process from scanning to delivering a single digital file took about an hour, not including the processing of the film. You needed a jamboy to keep insects out of the workings.
Then came portable film scanners and Apple Macs, which replaced the old suitcases. Then came Kodak with the first digital film backs for press cameras and the ball really got rolling. By now (circa mid-1990s) you started to see photographers shooting photos on fully-integrated digital cameras and transmitting photos from their laptops, via mobile phones back to the picture desk.
For consumers, compact cameras started to hit the market, with giddying resolutions of 800,000 pixels, and costing upwards of £450, but the die was cast. Canon developed their own digital SLRs, hotly pursued by Nikon, pixel wars followed and here we are today. Film is almost extinct, but digital cameras have coincided perfectly with the advances of web technology.
The two were made for each other. People love taking pictures, and they love boring their friends and complete strangers with them, so the internet is the perfect way to self-publish. Everyone wants to be a photographer now, many people think they are and supply their photos of autumn leaves and rainbows to the likes of Getty for a fat 8p fee for each photo sold, or they share them for free on sites like flickr, where unscrupulous web designers and bloggers can trawl for photos in the hope they won’t get caught when they nick them for websites.
And this is where the marriage between the internet and photography is getting shaky. You see professional photographers and the likes of Getty have always known the value of copyright, whereas most people have ventured, utterly un-prepared, into the arena of taking and publishing photos with precious little inkling of the meaning of copyright.
Any idiot can give a photo away for free, but getting paid a respectable fee for supplying a photo, well that’s a black art. An art which Getty et al wished professional photographers didn’t know so much about, and are thankful most amateurs don’t understand. Because if Getty, Google, Corbis, Facebook, flickr (whoever, you get the gist) could make money out of all the “free” photos on the web, they’d be laughing all the way to the Canary Islands for a very comfy retirement.
Unfortunately for internet entrepreneurs, not only do professional photographers understand the value of copyright, but the general public are starting to twig too and are asking questions like “why did I wear my camera out taking 40,000 photos of butterflies, and all you pay me is some copper pennies and a half-eaten Werther’s Original?”
This marriage is starting to strain, and there could be some shouting, door slamming and plate smashing to come as the UK and US governments come under pressure to re-jig copyright laws so that web entrepreneurs (sometimes flatteringly referred to as freetards) can start exploiting everyone’s photos without all the bother of having to ask permission, let alone pay for what they want.
The next year or so will be critical to this fledgling marriage between the web and digital technology. The offspring of this unsteady alliance might turn out to be the bastard son of a badly re-drawn piece of legislation, and all the fun of the web will be replaced by sad bickering, litigation and exploitation. Suddenly I’m craving a roll of film.
This article was originally published as a guest blog on the ECRM website.
June 2, 2010
You’re shivering, but your palms sweat. You squirm on the unsympathetic chair, and squint into a spot lamp as a voice barks questions at you from the darkness beyond. That’s right, punk, you stole a photo from iStockphoto, and now they’re gonna make you sing like a canary. It’s a fair cop, and no mistake.
For some years now Getty (owners of iStockphoto) have been setting their attack lawyers on business owners and bloggers who have unwittingly (ok, let’s be honest; knowingly) stolen photos from the web to use in their own websites. Normally, a web designer or amateur site builder will trawl Google images for something appropriate to their requirements, mis-appropriate it and use it thinking “well that was easy, so maybe it’s not illegal.”
This is fine and dandy (barring the ethical question of stealing from photographers), until the perp happens to steal an image which should have been licensed through iStockphoto, because that’s when the klaxon alarm goes off at Getty HQ, and the lawyers start booking another expensive restaurant meal based on future incomes from hapless/clueless/amateur website builders.
There was the fairly spectacular case of the removals firm which ended up spending £24,000 on a photo that might have cost around £160 had they licensed it legally, and there’s been a long-running and rather overheated discussion on the Federation of Small Businesses forum which has largely concentrated on how unfair it is that anyone should defend copyright so vigorously against people who were, after all, only stealing what they wanted and couldn’t be bothered to pay for (that’s a brutal summary, but not unfair).
Getty Bad Cop has earned something of a reputation for being belligerent and heavy-handed, and even I would disagree with some of their methods, even though I support the aims of protecting copyright property as I support anyone’s right to protect their own property.
However, perhaps sensing that this approach isn’t getting them much good publicity or winning any new friends, Getty have rolled out a new weapon. Stockphotorights is the cuddly face of the mass image aggregator hell-bent on cornering and dominating the stock image industry. It’s Getty Good Cop.
I have to admit, I rather approve of the aim of stockphotorights which is deigned to educate even the most casual user of images about the dos and don’ts of using photos. I’ve been trying to help people understand copyright and licensing for years, but let’s face it, I’m not Getty and don’t have anything like their resources to reach the masses. Plus where some people will just think it’s Tim spouting off about copyright AGAIN, they might take notice of the message from Getty.
Naturally, the site is aimed purely at users of stock images and only really mentions Getty-related agencies, but the same applies to any image found on the internet, so well worth a read.
So let me get you a glass of water, a more comfortable chair; perhaps turn off the interrogation lamp and offer a call to a solicitor. I’ll ask the Guv to calm down, take it easy. Better yet, take a few minutes to read the wealth of info at stockphotorights and we can all go home early.
March 25, 2010
The UK Government has been pushing a piece of legislation through Parliament called the Digital Economy Bill, the main thrust of which is to set out how the UK manages its digital economy for the future.
Clauses in the bill deal with such subjects as the broadband tax, which charges each household a fee so that all households can be brought up to a minimum connection speed, and controversial legislation allowing illicit file sharers to have their internet connections blocked.
But buried deep within the bill are some clauses which far from protecting the rights of the creative industry, will actually leave almost no protection against infringement. Section 43 of the DEB deals with Orphan Works. Those are creative works (photos, illustrations, videos) which have become separated from their owners. A work with no identifying metadata, no watermark. A child of a creative mind, lost and alone, waiting for Fagin to take it under his “helpful” wing.
The original plan was to allow museums, galleries and the like to release from dusty vaults tens of thousands of forgotten works, the creator of which is unknown, so they could licence them in ways that would bring much needed revenue to those institutions. However, certain politicians not being the sharpest tools in the box thought it would also be a “good thing” to encompass ALL works whose creators could no longer be traced.
As an illustration, a photo you take on Wednesday morning, post to Flickr by lunchtime, is lifted by an unscrupulous blogger or corporate marketeer by 5pm and so (because they stripped your watermark and IPTC info) created an instant orphan by teatime. Anyone stumbling upon that stolen version will have no idea who took it.
Because there is no way to trace that photo back to you, even a “diligent” search (as required under the act) would not reveal your ownership of the photo. So anyone else wanting to use that image just has to pay a made-up fee to a newly made-up UK Government licensing body, and off they’d go on their merry way, using your photos for heaven knows what.
If at some point you happen to stumble upon that use of your photo, you’ll be able to go to the Government and ask for “some” money for its use. Assuming the government can see that you took the photo, and that the user of the photo paid the government some money, or beans or a sheep, you’ll be able to claim a fee (or beans, or sheep, who knows?) This fee may or may not reflect the commercial value of your photo, or the money spent taking it, but no matter. Government knows best.
There isn’t time here to go fully into the nightmare scenario of child identification/model release/property release issues in orphaned works used on the net, or exclusivity agreements a photographer may have had with their client before the photo was nicked. Nor is there time really to go into what happens when a UK company steals a photo held by, oh let’s say, Getty – an American company with lawyers whose litigious fingers are twitchier than a Wild West gunslinger’s, and whose fighting fund would bale out Iceland and Greece rolled into one.
The Digital Economy Bill is complicated enough, but the legal ramifications of what happens when it becomes law and all starts to go horribly wrong, will make your head spin like an owl in a blender.
Whether professional or amateur, it’s important (if you care about photography at all) to contact your local MP now. The bill looks set get thrown into the Parliamentary “wash-up” on April 6th, where it will not be debated at all and will become law, so there isn’t much time to react.
Other blogs on the subject:
Irish perspective from professional photographer Neil Danton, but mind the blue language…
Scottish photographer David Robertson gives a view.