While we often write about musicians getting a bum rap when it comes to getting paid in the digital age, we need to draw more attention to other content creators who are feeling the same pains.
This is a great example. In a letter to photographers, Time, Inc's Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine cheerfully announced Time Magazine and all the other magazines it owns
Date:November 2, 2015
To: Photographers Who Work with Time Inc.
From: Norm Pearlstine, Chief Content Officer, Time Inc.
Since the 1920s and ’30s, when Time and Life magazines first appeared on the scene, Time Inc. and its brands have been known for the beauty and power of iconic photography. While our commitment to original photography is as true today as ever, we are revising how we commission and use photographs.
As of January 1, 2016, we will be standardizing rates and reuse rights for commissioned editorial photography across Time Inc.
Our goal is to create a new management system that will allow us to track the use of commissioned editorial photography and to foster a consistent approach across Time Inc.
The new policy means that all Time Inc. brands will seek specified rights from photographers to reuse, at pre- agreed rates, photography that has been commissioned by any Time Inc. brand in the US, with any required additional permissions cleared by Time Inc.
Some photographers have already signed a cross-brand agreement with Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Departures, and Centurion (formerly known as Black Ink), and those photographers will be asked to confirm the application of that agreement to other Time Inc. brands. Photographers who have not already signed that agreement will be offered a new cross-brand agreement that provides the details of our new rates and rights for commissioned photography going forward.
Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer Time Inc.
Sounds good, right? Not when you read the contract. John Harrington has a breakdown of the contract Time's revision and it's ugly. Harrington is saying Time, Inc. has not factored in any cost of living adjustment in its rates, and posits the average 1920's photographer mentioned in Pearlstine's letter made a much better living. I urge any photographer to read the entire breakdown, but for now I'll highlight the best worst bits in an effort to inform photographers who read Adland. Under Time's new contract, several alarming points come up beyond just their rate of payment.
Under "Assigning Brand Use & Reuse Rights," they start by suggesting you reserve and retain all the rights to your photographs BUT then they finish that section by saying
You hereby license to Publisher, the Rights (as defined below) to each Photograph created pursuant to an Assignment (excluding the Idea House Assignments), exclusively to the extent specified in Section 5 (Embargo). “Rights” means, collectively, the Assigning Brand Use & Reuse Rights, the Affiliated Brand Use & Reuse Rights, the Syndication Rights for Sports Illustrated, and the Time Inc. Photo & Food Studio Rights, each as defined below, each and all including the rights to reproduce, distribute, publish, publicly perform, display, download, transmit, and store the Photographs, and authorize and license the exercise of such rights to and by third parties, each and all throughout the world, in perpetuity, in any and all media, formats and methods of transmission now known or hereafter developed.
As Harrington points out, this not only sets you up to compete against relicensing your work against Time, the above contract gives you no further compensation because the clause grants the following usage rights to the Assigning brand related brand or title. In other words, they can sell your work all they want to and you without giving you a cut, even though you supposedly own the rights to the images. Which means you have to somehow beat them to the third parties.
More highlights include the embargo section which effectively means if you take photographs for an assignment that is never published you can't ever use your photographs for another purpose. Not to mention the "delivery and acceptance," clause which opens the door to rejection and non-payment of photographs for any subjective reason.
To quickly recap: Time pays shit rates, and reserves the right to sell your images to third parties despite supposedly allowing you to retain the right to your images.
Time has a history of doing this, having readjusted (downward) their rates during the late 90's. Brands are just as guilty. Around the same time, Red Bull did the same. More recently, Jill Greenberg's crying toddlers were also used without permission for banner ads. As they continue to devalue the worth of photography, one has to wonder if they won't end up causing the real talent to go elsewhere and end up with lesser talent. It's hard to say as there are always a bunch of suckers out there who buy into the "it's a privilege to have your work featured here," just as there is always a junior who will take a 30K salary in New York for the same reason.
Like most creative types though, it will be hard to get photographers to collectively say no to a bad idea. Just look at the music industry for an example. For musician who speaks out against being unable to make a living wage, a musician with Stockholm Syndrome comes along and says the exact opposite. For every article written on the disappearing middle class musician, some useful idiot will tell us if we don't give the music away for next to nothing then piracy will increase. Every time we mention how advertising supports piracy someone else comes along to say "Piracy is actually a good thing." And any time we dare suggest Youtube is nothing more a data-mining company masquerading as an entertainment site who makes billions without adequate distribution to the content creators themselves, some paid shill will post a comment on our articles telling us how wrong we are. Except we're not.
So it remains to be seen if the photography industry will find its collective voice and tell Time to go to hell and stand their ground. The way things are going, there's a sucker with an iPhone 6 born every minute though, so I'm not holding my breath.