Lens wars

THE FUTURE of photographers' rights is being decided by a series of major battles in the United States that make the fight at BBC Worldwide look like a sideshow. The Business Week deal reported in the last Freelance was a major victory, but the fate of several other campaigns is in the balance. Here are three of the frontlines:

National Geographic

In 1997 the National Geographic Society published its "largest-selling educational CD set in history," the CD108 set. It included everything printed in the first 108 years of publication - text and pictures - with no additional payment!

Underwater photographer Jerry Greenberg successfully brought the first of many actions, which NGS is now appealing. The list of major publishers who have filed friends-of-the-court briefs on behalf of NGS reads like a who's who of potential rights grabbers.

The NGS is now issuing "work for hire" contracts to freelances. That's a US legal fiction making them "employees" for the day, grabbing all their rights. And it has just done a deal with Getty to sell their (that is, the photographers') pictures. Getty is one of the two giant picture libraries carving up the world, with...


Corbis is the other giant picture library/agency. Guess who owns it? Bill Gates. Its contracts are worth an entire Freelance special issue to themselves.

Photographers at Sygma in Paris (swallowed whole by Corbis) have just got their own special version, which they've totally rejected. They formed their own association, hired a lawyer, and said NO!

Here's just one of the bright ideas that made Bill the man he is today. Corbis is trying to get photographers to sign over the copyright to Corbis's digital version of their pictures, on the entirely specious grounds that they need this right "to defend their photographers' copyright" in court.

This looks like an attempt to get round the French law on Authors' Rights, pretending the digital version is a quite different work from the photographer's picture. Its effect on US photographers could be even worse, though: if Corbis registered the digital version first, the photographer would be unable to register ownership of the original at all.

Boston Globe

Like its owner the New York Times, the Boston Globe wants photographers to sign away rights to internet use for $0. And it's borrowing a leaf from the National Geographic book, demanding the right to sell the pictures via an agency of its choice.

The Globe issued all freelances an ultimatum: Sign by the end of May 2000, or no longer work for the company. As we go to press not one photographer in North America or Europe has signed the contract. Total resistance! (And most of the writers are holding out too. Ed)

Photographers - join the EPUK (Editorial Photo UK) email list: - see www.epuk.org

June    2000
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Last modified: 08 Jun 2000
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