Common Cents
March 2003

by Mark Loundy

The workers on the Manhattan Project took on a nearly impossible challenge to address a grave threat to the national security.

— U.S. Department of Energy Web Site

In the summer of 1945, the U.S. faced an impossible challenge: Invade the Japanese home islands without suffering unprecedented casualties. There seemed no way around the expected quarter-million Allied dead in the invasion of Kyushu with even more forecast to die conquering the Japanese main island of Honshu. Millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians prepared to sacrifice themselves defending their homeland.

Invasion plans were written. Hundreds of thousands of GIs steamed toward the western Pacific. Many did not expect to see home again.

But the impossible flashed into reality in searing fireballs above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although more than 100,000 people were killed by the two atomic bombs, the feared invasion was cancelled. The lives of millions were spared on both sides by an invention unforeseen by nearly all.

Independent photographers are faced with a similar "impossible" challenge. Too many photographers are chasing fewer dollars. Compensation is shrinking and rights are essentially being confiscated. The future of the industry is at-risk.

As businesspeople, it is our job to analyze the situation from the client's point of view.

Our customers are faced with increasingly complex rights management accompanied by a growing reliance on freelancers. To meet this challenge, their lawyers have crafted contracts that simplify their work at the expense of the freelancers. It's legal "scorched earth."

At the same time, freelancer day rates plummet and client-dictated contracts destroy future income. There's also the "enemy within" — photo hobbyists and "professional" photographers who operate their businesses like hobbies are driving rates down and freely signing all-rights contracts.

For the most part, our public discussions have been defensive (sometimes offensive) in nature. With a few exceptions, there has been little product development to meet a clear market need.

The Freelancers "Manhattan Project"

Since we're supposed to be creative, my challenge to you is to consider the situation from the client's point of view and create a solution that meets client needs yet improves the economic position of freelancers. In other words, something nobody's thought of — yet.

Address our industry problems in such a way that independent photographers can make a decent living, while taking into account the challenges faced by our clients.

1. Licenses must economically meet the needs of converging media and open-ended online display.
2. Freelancers must be able to reasonably assure their financial futures.
3. The client must be able to avoid complex rights-management procedures.
4. Minimize the impact of "hobbyists."

In other words, it must be a win-win solution.

"It's impossible" is not an acceptable response.

Discuss your suggestions on NPPA-L. or the EP Group. Who knows, you might come up with something unforseen.

The Good: The Miami Herald, for accepting a photographer's changes to their contract.
The Bad: This month was extreme. No "Bad" this time.
The Ugly:

  •  The Charlotte Observer, for complete copyright transfer.
  •  CMP, for uncompensated ancillary uses, indemnification clause, unreasonable acceptability clause and much much more.

    Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

    National Geographic Society (NGS) is licensing their massive image collection to the public. For now, they're paying royalties to photographers even for images owned by NGS. But given the way things have evolved in the business world, that will not last forever. Photographers with images in the NGS collection should nail down the relationship contractually.


    Japan Map

    Manhattan Project

    National Geographic Image Collection

    Small Business Administration

    Advertising Photographers of America Resource page

    Editorial Photographers Yahoo! Group

    NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

    © Mark Loundy

    Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.

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