From cable companies like Time Warner to iTunes to Viacom and beyond, there is one thing that drives these companies. Content. Pure and simple.

Some have control because they produce the content, some have control because they distribute the content. Then there are those who are breaking the mold (authors) who are now producing the content and distributing the content via self publishing platforms. But what it all comes down to is the desire to control the content.


Money. From the independent  author to the largest cable operators in the world, it’s no secret that good content is valuable. I’m sure Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling knows this and it’s likely no surprise to Star Wars producers Lucas Films that the content is valuable enough to retain control of the licensing rights. The Beatles were famous for this as well as they held out for years against the new pricing model introduced by iTunes (working as a distributor).

So why don’t photographers do the same?

Photographers are in a prime position in the digital age to control the production of the content and the distribution. That’s a huge advantage that wasn’t available ten to fifteen years ago when photographers had to have a agency to quickly and efficiently distribute the work to clients worldwide. Yet more and more photographers continue to sign agreements that gives the content to the hiring party for use and perpetual distribution. Don’t they ever wonder, “Geez, why does XYZ company want to own my content?” If they considered this, photographer would likely realize that the company knows the content is valuable and wants to use it forever at no additional cost. Not to mention they can also distribute your content and keep all the money they generate all to themselves.

The way I see it is quite simple: Content distributors can’t distribute nothing. There’s just no value in nothing (unless your Seinfeld, I guess). 20th Century Fox can’t screen non- existent movies and publishers can’t sell a magazine full of blank, white pages. Distributors need the content and the photographer has the ability to negotiate fair terms. So what to do?

  • Don’t agree to Work for Hire contracts unless the money up front is enough to compensate for lost licensing revenue in the future. This has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
  • Don’t agree to copyright grabs.
  • Don’t take part in contests that allow unrestricted use of the content.
  • Don’t work with agencies that undervalue the content so they can make volume based revenue off of you (ahem…..Getty, US Presswire, etc)
  • Read and understand the contracts that you sign.

In other words, it’s okay to say “no thanks.” Or, as the protester above recommends, “Resist Injustice.”

But do so politely because saying no has negative connotations. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

This overwhelming willingness by photographers to give away their content has morphed into a big problem for those of us who try to retain control of our work by negotiating with companies. Yes, that’s right, negotiating. It’s the oldest business principle on the books but one that is now seen by photo distributors (anyone hiring us for our content) as mostly being used by “problem” photographers. In other words, negotiating used to be standard but is now viewed as a problem.

If I’m approached to shoot a job and the terms dictate that the hiring party (who will be distributing my work via their magazine, website, brochure or whatever) retains all control of the work forever and I can’t license it to anyone else, then I begin the negotiations to get the terms changed. If that doesn’t work, then I try to up the fee to reflect the hiring parties perpetual use of my content. If that doesn’t work, I thank them and crack a beer. Well, not really………. okay, maybe if it’s after 5pm I will.

The unwillingness of hiring parties to negotiate terms or fees is growing. There’s no doubt it is partially, if not fully, a result of so many photographers giving in to their terms just to get the job. The companies figure they can always find someone who won’t even ask to negotiate, hence the view that those who do negotiate are “problems.” But that’s okay with me. I can’t control if others don’t see the value of their work (or perhaps their work is terrible and it truly isn’t valuable), but I can control my work because it is valuable.

With digital platforms that make worldwide distribution as easy as a click of a button, it’s mind boggling to think photographers will give away their content in this era when all the tools we need are at our fingertips. As I said above, we have a prime opportunity to control the content and distribution. Filmmakers, authors, musicians and others have done so, why can’t we? All we have to do is negotiate the bad contracts, appreciate the good contracts, and say “no” to the content grabbers who want to make their money off our content.

Occupy your content. Resist injustice. Just say no.


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