Part 2: The Art of Being Commissioned: The Smash and Grab Conversation

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I don’t need it,
Don’t need your blah, blah,
Should’ve realized,
I know what you are.
Johnny Rotten. 1976

Let’s begin with the cold hard reality of copyright understanding amongst those not involved in commissioning photography. Here is an actual conversation I have been part of on more than one occasion at more than one publishing company. It is also one of the main reasons that I no longer commission photography for editorial publishers.

Management: “We own the photographs because we paid for them.”
Me: “We don’t own them, we have paid for a license to use them on a first use basis.”
Management: “But we’ve paid for them, of course we own them.”
Me: “No, we have paid for them to be created and to use them but we don’t own them.”
Management: “We’ve paid for them and we don’t own them?”
Me: “Yes and no.”
Management: “How can I pay somebody for something and not own it? That’s ridiculous! Who owns them then?”
Me: “The photographer owns them.”
Management: “You’re joking right! We paid the photographer for something and they get to keep it?”
Me: “That’s right.”
Management: “What use are they to them?”
Me: “They can do what they like with them but most photographers will try to sell them through a syndication agency, stock agency or directly to other clients they have.”
Management: “Let me get this straight. I pay the photographer and then they sell the thing I’ve paid them to create and which I own?”
Me: “Yes but you don’t own them.”
Management: “But I paid for them of course I own them! From now on no one works for us and keeps the things I’ve paid for!”
Me: “That would mean negotiating with the photographer to buy their copyright from them.”
Management: “I’m not negotiating anything! They accept our rules or they don’t work for us! There are loads of photographers who will work for free and give us their images to use however and wherever we want in return for us publishing their pictures. They need the publicity! Your job is to find them and work with them. If they won’t work for free they can give us the copyright we need for the same fee we currently pay them. We can then sell them as well as re-use them. ”
Me: “I see where you are coming from with this. Your position is clear.”
Management: “Good, now why are the sales of the latest issue down year on year?”

Note: Today, the five leading national and international focused UK based magazine publishers request photographers sign away their copyright before being commissioned, published or paid by them. Other publishers have also adopted or are in the process of adapting this commissioning module.

© Grant Scott 2014

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