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New member sees off retrospective rights grab

A NEW member who agreed to do some photography for a charity as a volunteer describes what went wrong and how - with the NUJ's help - she was able to come to a satisfactory arrangement to prevent a retrospective rights grab.

The charity sector is largely dependent on good quality photography. It is - correctly - perceived as fundraising for good causes. But the reality of the charity sector is that much of this work done is by volunteers. What about the people behind the photography which creates the charity's branding? It’s the man or woman behind the lens who still in most cases isn’t getting the recognition they deserve.

It came as no surprise to discover that charities are very unlikely to pay you for your photography services however talented you are. One well-known charity in particular, after you have done the photo assignment for them and sent in your work, will send you an email, which links to a downloadable form. This informs you in a rather demanding way that you sign over copyright and ownership of your work to the charity for £1.

When a digital photograph is generated the camera generates meta-data including the name of the photographer and the details of the camera and lens used and settings for the photograph when it was taken. This proves ownership, that the photographer took the photo. So why should you give up the right to your work? You shouldn’t.

I turned around and decided to politely say no. I knew that I was putting myself on a collision course with the charity concerned, with little chance of success. I was very aware that I could be given the brush off - dropped by the charity concerned, never to be used again.

I got politely told it was sign or we don’t use your photography. With this response I sent a reply which stated that I am the copyright holder of my work as my name is generated on each photograph I take when I use my camera. I stuck to my position knowing I could well be kicking over a beehive.

At that point I alerted the NUJ to my position. The NUJ legal department responded to my email, armed with my legal advice I was now better placed than I started. The charity replied, sticking to their position, I replied that I could not sign over copyright to the charity. But I was willing to provide an exclusive agreement where I would supply the charity only with the photos I had taken but would agree not to re-use them on my social media or website. This I sent back and waited for a reply.

After a very long wait I got a reply back - to my surprise a big shift in their position. I was offered full recognition for my photography on their social media and website for exclusive use of my photography, recognised as copyright owner of my photography.

So, in the course of one afternoon with the support from the NUJ legal department and LFB's New Members rep Francesca Marchese I had politely negotiated myself a better deal. I am quite pleased with that. I have maintained ownership and copyright, which I feel all photographers are entitled to. If it wasn’t for the NUJ I would certainly have been stuck. What we learn from this is never sign anything without reading it first, never sign the rights to your work away for small fees.

I feel that today’s charity industry could treat photographers better. We are skilled creative people. Our work deserves to be recognised. Working as a volunteer photographer has its pitfalls. And I certainly fell into one.