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Monday, March 16, 2009

In the Field of Editorial Photography... is Thievery a Problem?

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A photobuyer calls you and says, "We like the photos you sent us and have scanned two dozen of them into our database."

"You what...?" is your response.

The photobuyer responds, "You have a lot of pictures that we feel we could use in the future. We're building an in-house reference file. Any problems with that?"

Consider it a compliment. Scanning of photos by a photobuyer needn't be a threatening experience. Twenty-five years ago, when photocopy machines were new, a buyer copying a photo "for the files" seemed tantamount to copyright infringement to stock photographers. Gradually, however, stock photographers saw they were getting sales from the photocopied reference photos on file with photobuyers.

The same is happening today with scanning. The photobuyer scans photos to obtain low resolution (i.e. not reproduction-quality) "thumbnail-size" images to put into their reference "view-only" database. A software program cross-references them.

In the future, scanning your selections will be commonplace. No need to fear thievery any more than you do at the present. And particularly if you are working within the confines of a photobuying community where you know your buyers and they know you. It?s important to remember that the editorial photobuying community that you are working in makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the issue of thievery. It would be rare to hear of larceny.

In the editorial stock photo field, I?ve never heard of a photobuyer intentionally "stealing" a photo. There?d be no sense to it. The photo editor has a budget to work with; there?s no material profit to him or her to ?borrow? a photo on the sly. Besides, the photo will be seen by hundreds, thousands of viewers. Most gangsters say this is not a profitable way to get away with something illegal.

In commercial stock photography, however, there can be a different attitude and circumstances. The commercial field can brew more reasons and opportunity to "borrow" someone?s photo, especially for a local or regional brochure or promotion.

If you?re involved strictly in editorial stock photography, the above kind of information might be news to you. If you deal extensively in commercial stock photography, it?s not a surprise.

You have a choice which area you want to work in.

Scanned images come in a variety of forms. The 72 dpi-scanned image is an excellent reference image. However, the image can be ?decompressed? and in some cases be used as a 300-dpi image.

A graver problem regard digital images is that it's possible to easily pass them on to others (swapping). If an ad agency goes out of business (check the Yellow Pages and you?ll see how often this happens from year to year), or photobuyers begin trading images, your images, or parts of yours, could be involved in the action.


Again, however, if you are working as a specialist and deal with repeat buyers in the editorial field, you will know your buyers and they will know you. You can encourage these folks, potential repeat buyers, to scan your photos for their reference files.

I should say that I am in the minority on advocating that you allow photobuyers to scan your photos. But most of those with the opposite view are in the commercial field, or are editorial stock photographers who spend a portion of their time on commercial work.

My own thirty-five years of involvement in and observing stock photography, tell me that for the editorial stock photographer, thievery has never been a problem. But if you are like most people, and want to deal in both the editorial and commercial divisions of the stock industry, it is an important issue to consider. With this in mind, here?s one photographer?s negative experience.

Ann Purcell is an author and nationally-known travel photographer. She relates this adventure with a commercial client who scanned some of her images:

?Here?s one of my experiences with scanned in-house reference photos. One of my photo agencies sent a selection of photos to a printer company for an ad. None of the photos were selected to be used, but they were all scanned. Lo and behold, about six months later, one of the photos came out as a full-page ad for the printing company. The company ended up paying me $15,000 for the copyright infringement.

?They also paid me $10,000 for use of the picture. Then they must have changed photo researchers, because....... Lo and Behold.....Six months later, another follow-up ad used the SAME photo, again without permission! This time they paid $10,000 for the use/copyright infringement of the picture. That's $35,000, all due to having had in-house reference scans and photo researchers who knew nothing about USA copyright laws!?

Yes, this does happen in commercial stock photography. But does it happen when you deal with editorial publishers such as textbook companies, book publishers and magazines? Rarely, and then it?s usually an honest mistake. We?re all entitled to a few of those. -RE

Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Telephone: 1 800 624 0266 Fax: 1 715 248 7394. Web site: http://www.photosource.com/products

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