Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Re-Stating The Value of Copyright

All too often I hear photographers justify giving away all the rights to their work, suggesting the images are worthless or next to worthless. Like grains of sand, over time, they can become a beach. How big of a beach? That depends.

Photo District News has done a great job of following Annie Liebovitz's trials and tribulations (Is the Leibovitz Archive Really Worth $50 Million?) and asked the question that a photographer who does not own their own images could never ask of themselves because the answer is obvious.

When you give up the copyright, or all the rights, the answer is $0. So, say you're not Annie, what is your work worth?
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Enter Manuello Paganelli. "Pag" spent many years in the Washington DC area before moving to Los Angeles to make his mark. Manuello has been a stalwart defender of photographers rights (and his own) for as long as I have known him. Manuello can take a great photo - he's a solid photographer to be sure. Pag isn't, however, Annie, Salgado, Avedon, or Newman. I'm not telling him anything he doesn't already know, but I am making the point that you Pag could be you.

He posted an interesting story about his experience generating $20,000 from images he made on assignment. The story is here - Done Deal Three Images Licensed for 20K, and is well worth the read, including checking out the photos, which he links to.

The point here - is that your archive - when you own all the rights to the work, is valuable. Just a few months ago, I did a portrait for a magazine, and the subjects' organization (a non-profit by the way) is looking to license the work - for the usage they are looking for, the fee that has been agreed to is $2k.

Copyright, and your ability to control what does - and does not - happen with your work is what separates you, the photographer, from a day-laborer. There's nothing wrong, of course, with being a day-laborer, unless you are creating images that other people are licensing and re-licensing and profiting from, and you are not a participant in that revenue stream.

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