Being Used

Imagine for a moment that you have an idea. You sketch out this idea and run it by your client who approves it. Then, you hire a photographer to shoot the exact scenario your idea requires. You pay this photographer a lot of money (say $5,000) for shooting your idea. And, now, guess who owns that shot? The photographer.

This photographer now gets to charge your client a fee for USING the shot that you conceived. And, the best part is, you can only use that photo for an agreed upon length of time before you or your clients have to pay the photographer – AGAIN.

Am I the only person who thinks this is the most unjust scenario in the business world?

No one appreciates the work of a skilled photographer more than I do. But, give me a break, the hard work is done when that image is captured and immediately afterwards in its retouching. Much of this post work is directed by the agency – furthering our sense of ownership. Yet our client still has to pay the photographer in order to use this image that we originally conceived. And a buyout is usually cost prohibitive.

In these difficult financial times, many photographers have been more reasonable about buyouts. This is a step in the right direction. But I believe it’s time for usage rights to come to an end.

Advertising agencies are paid to help develop, define and protect their clients’ brands. We come up with taglines that are repeated in every ad. We write TV spots and videos that are quoted. And we develop imagery that’s replicated and spoofed. Yet everything we create is owned by our clients because they hire us to develop it for them. Just as we hire photographers to shoot photographs for us.

If clients had to pay their agencies usage fees for the advertisements they create, they wouldn’t be able to afford the media buys that allow consumers to see that advertising. Photography is no different.

Early photographers must have been the shrewdest business people in the world. They figured out a way to make continuous cash:

• They get paid for their time and talent when they shoot.

• They get paid when that shot is used.

• And they end up owning the work regardless of who authored the original idea.

But in this increasingly strained business climate, usage rights are simply not affordable. Advertising agencies end up having to use lesser quality stock photography that the client can afford to own indefinitely. This leaves the client with photography that’s not as good as it could be and it leaves photographers with less custom work. We all lose.

So while world-renowned photographers continue to earn usage fees year after year, it’s the agency and client who end up getting used.