semper in excretia sumus solum
Originally, I had no intention in joining the present discussions about whether or not to sign the new contracts on offer by the Getty group of companies as my position has always been very clear and I was never prepared to hand over my work to any agent lock, stock & barrel. I quote Collins Dictionary and Encyclopaedia: agent (a'-jent) "one entrusted with the business of another" or "a deputy or substitute". As author of my work, I have always protected my copyright and regarded myself as the number "one" and the agent as number "two" - and there are quite a few of them who have to share second place. I have never used a pseudonym, always informed my agents of the fact that I will sell my own work and also use different agents around the world. No problem.
I was pleased to learn that there was at least some common sense left out there. Michael Grecco's email on having your own input before signing a contract - even if it means messing up such a carefully typed document - is of course right. I have always protected my work by doing just that. Today, I am too busy to read through 15 pages of legal jargon and refuse to even look at any contract exceeding one page in length, yet I know of many colleagues who are willing to sign longer contracts without reading them or understanding the full impact. Therein lies the root of the problem: Getty was never interested in photography, let alone photographers. But who can blame him investing into an industry where the workforce is supplied totally free and even the advertising of the product (catalogues, CD, internet) is paid for by the same workforce. It's time for "Mea Culpa": photographers have brought this misery onto themselves as they have rarely stood up for their entitlements but instead gave up more and more rights along the way.
Never have I had sympathy with the argument of "but I've got a family and two hamsters to feed". If it's that bad, may I suggest that the complainant is in the wrong trade altogether. On the other hand, having given up the copyright in many cases or simply not being able to market one's own photography freely, leaves very little comfort for the future. There are so many young and gifted photographers out there who will never experience the support which was offered to me when I started in this profession. Long time ago one of my employers who never once visited a management seminar but whom I always respected highly, told me his philosophy in these simple words: "A happy photographer is a good photographer". This philosophy still works today. Instead of putting chains on creative minds, commerce has an obligation to support this precious talent. Shareholders too will be grateful for such long term investments. Without this support, photography will become just another commodity indistinguishable from the daily tripe we are surrounded with already.
FPG was good to me until the Brackman family sold out. Trouble was just around the corner, though the new management had to show optimism and new creativity to meet so-called changes in the market place. Over the past few years my sales through FPG have fallen from $ 11.000 a month to $ 150.00 and less. Yet the world-wide image market has trebled and my own stock sales have increased at a steady rate. There is no real explanation available, but on one occasion I was intrigued enough to ask Rebecca Taylor, FPG's own Director of Photography, what it was, a stock library sold on for $ 72.000.000. After all they had no assets but a couple of toilet rolls, some lightboxes and a few pencils to push. The photography (with a few exceptions) wasn't theirs to sell. I think Rebecca was a bit flustered by my unsolicited query and mentioned college twaddle of "good will", "a list of clients" and "talented highly capable staff" - nothing on which my local bank manager would have advanced more than a fistful of dollars. Nor did any of the "talented highly capable staff" survive the implemented changes.
Selling "Royalty Free" has been a selfish undertaking right from the beginning. For every picture sold in this "user friendly" form, one of us will lose a sale forever and it will be impossible to revert the price decay. Now that "Royalty Free" is widely available, you should not expect art directors to give it up lightly. With more agencies entering the ring, prices will fall even further. But I bet, in the panic not to be left behind, none of the hyped-up high-flyers in this business have thought it through to it's logical conclusion: what will happen once every advertising agency has a 1000 down-loads on disc or a set of 100 CDs on the shelves. Are they going to continue sending cheques or are they going to re-use available material already in their possession? When this point of saturation has been reached and shareholders get itchy feet, who will foot the bill once again? And don't think for a minute that this point is all that far away: on May 3rd, 2001, Pictor International Inc., a subsidiary of Pictor International Ltd., filed for bankruptcy in the District of Columbia/USA. The company had total assets of $635,000 and debts of $1,278,341. Following in hot pursuit, on July 12th, 2001 the newly formed on-line agency Speedpix.com had to face reality and again photographers were footing the bill. February 2002: Pictor UK again is in deep excrement and so are the supplying photographers. October 2002: ACE joins the smelly substance on the fan. The beginning of the end? Hardly, but mobile phones too were the buzz word just a few months ago, yet the present share market paints a much different picture of this particular hyped-up and over-valued industry.
My own experience has shown that I personally can sell more of my work than all my agents together. I no longer give "exclusive" rights to agents, as a large amount of such "exclusive" images will never be seen by a client. In this day and age exclusivity is a luxury no photographer can afford: Getty & Co. want images exclusively in order to sell non-exclusive rights over the internet or on "Royalty Free" CD's. Think about the logic of such a request! Experience has shown that there are very few images sold for real serious exclusive requirements. If such a case should arise and to clear such reproduction rights, let us put our trust in old-fashioned technology: the telephone, the fax, the email, even text it if you must L or use a postcard.
Does anybody out there realise that, right now, when hundreds of photographers talk to or email each other, and with a little bit of organisation (I am not volunteering) you could have the largest stock agency in the world within 24 hours? Give it some thought where the final power could lie? After all, what is a stock library without stock? Who does the stock belong to? These are the questions one needs to address and if you sign a Pledge of Solidarity to that effect, everybody could be reasonably assured that colleagues would not sign a new and un-reasonable contract behind their backs. There's the bottom line: photographers do not trust each other and it is this weakness which agents exploit to the full.
On a final thought: when you hire a car at the airport, surely you sign the contract given to you by the owner of the vehicle. Yet you seem quite happy to accept that your photo agent (remember: agent (a'-jent) "one entrusted with the business of another" or "a deputy or substitute") is dictating a contract to you. In fact, it has taken most of my life to realise how wrong this practice is. Recently I started co-operation with a Chinese agent and in rather poor English he asked me to forward my contract. Now, I could have stumped him with 12 pages of gobbledegook, got him all worked up to employ a translator at great expense, instead I felt generous and restricted it to two lines only: "I send pictures - Your send money". Feel free to make use of my contract and don't forget the 50% clause. Accept peanuts and you'll end up as monkeys.
Each of you will have to make the final decision of how to handle the contract on offer. Whatever you decide, I wish you all well. My personal motto "semper in excretia sumus solum profundum variat" (We are always in the manure; only the depth varies) has never been so apt.