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Garbage In, Garbage out.

Have you heard about Pat Pope? In addition to being a world-class awesome photographer, he recently gained press and notoriety (and infamy to some) as being The Guy Who Wrote An Open Letter To Garbage.

To recap, Garbage, the 90’s alt band who have two multi-platinum albums, are wanting to put out a retrospective book of their work that they plan to self-release. I’m sure that’s quite difficult, since no one knows who they are and they are clearly living hand to mouth. Nevertheless, they are bravely marching forward with this idea.
Their management company, Big Picture Music Co, emailed Pat Pope, inquiring if they could use one of his photos he took of Garbage back in the 90’s when they were still relevant, for the grand price of free. Because content is king but content has no value any more. But of course they would ensure proper credit. Which is nice. I hear you can pay your mortgage with a proper citation.
Pope for his part said no, and openly so. Garbage responded with their own letter, infused with a mix of arrogance and incredulity, accusing Pope of being hostile (he wasn’t) and in a further point using Amanda Palmer as a defense. Protip: Using Amanda Palmer as a defense is never going to end up well.
They insist they paid him already. And while that might be true, I’d really be amazed if they paid him for full rights in perpetuity, or that he would be crazy enough to sign those rights away unless he saw a much bigger chunk of change. Unless Pope were indulging some of the backstage meds that were popular at rock shows during the time and signed his photos away, I would sincerely doubt this was the case.
Regardless, after suffering fools in the Garbage fan camp, Freehadist camp, and the drooling drones otherwise known as People On Twitter, Pope had enough and wrote one last sign off to the band, and the episode.
I encourage those of you who still can read past 140 characters to read the post in its entirety as it is rational and makes so many good points it should be required reading for all content creators.
Highlights include gems like this:

People think this is a one off request for special dispensation from one particular group of artists just trying to make one specific project happen. It isn’t. I receive hundreds of these requests a year, as does every other photographer I know

To be clear, Garbage didn’t contact me at all. Garbage paid someone at their management company to send me a pro-forma request for free usage of my work. When you receive a request like that, the power relationship is that a gigantic branded entity with huge reach and backing is asking a lone freelancer to accept that the value of their work is zero. Your two choices are to give them the permission, valuing your work at zero, or to refuse permission, in which case they will quietly remove you from the list of freelancers they work with so you won’t get any future work.

Note to those in advertising - the same will happen to you if you happen to say no to free jobs or next-to-free-jobs.

We are living in an age where content service providers and the public have unwittingly collaborated to reduce the value of creative content to zero. Companies are happy to sell you an expensive shiny device that sits in your pocket giving you access to limitless creative content. They conspire with other companies to create services that will deliver that content to you for free. The public unwittingly colluding with those companies to ensure the service providers and the device makers are getting paid while the artists are not.

Pope ends by saying he didn’t want this level of infamy foisted upon him. He just wants to work, and be paid for it. Notice I said, “be paid for it,” and not “become stinking rich” Garbage, Because that’s where we are these days. What’s more disconcerting is that in a time where all artists big and small are being ripped off by Big Tech, artists should really be pulling together, and not demanding freebies from one another.

So if you are a musician, or a record company or an ad agency for that matter and you are wanting a photographer, especially one with cred, you should hire Pat Pope. Emphasis on ‘hire.’ We have enough companies trying to devalue our work. We should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

And if you are a content creator (how I fucking hate that phrase) than you should also join Stop Working For Free.

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David Felton's picture

Amanda "Can you do it for exposure?" Palmer. Really? Really?

Fuck these guys. I'm going to say what you were too dignified to say: What a load of garbage.

N.B. Have to share - there's a comment on Facebook which reads:

Hey Garbage, can I use THE POWER OF ASKING and get you to play for free at a party I'm hosting in my home? You can play songs you've already been paid to play in the past so no harm done. The party is on April 27th. Thanks.

kidsleepy's picture

Ha ha ha ha.

Dabitch's picture

I'm actually quite surprised at Garbage's response. I know that Shirley Manson often employs the open letter format to voice her opinions about things, but in this particular case it makes her, and by extension her band, look like assholes. She outright lies about how he was approached, it was via the record label not via a personal note from Shirley as her words make it sound like. She perpetuates the "we paid you once already" fallacy, which if applied to music means all music fans should be able to grab CD's, mp3's, tapes or whatever in perpetuity provided they once bought an LP or went to a concert, to do with as they please in any other format. This is the exact thing that musicians have been fighting for years, and all other creative people who produce intangible goods often known as IP. Smart code that solves problems, poetry that moves hearts, comics that entertain, games that are hours of fun, books to dream to, films that show you the world, music lose lose yourself in. Illustrations, designs, art on your walls, art on the streets - if you didn't make it's not your property, and this to me seems like an obvious logic. Not sure why it isn't to other people. Ask away, by all means, that is the right approach but if someone says no thank you, don't scold them.