The Photography Industry Needs Fewer Lawyers — and More Trust

It creeps slowly under your door when you are not paying attention. It looks friendly, but it’s not. It uses smiles and persuasion to convince you of things you do not need. It builds walls around everyone and breaks any form of human connection. It’s the ultimate relationship killer.

May I introduce to you … the lawyer.

Sowers of Mistrust

Like many other industries, the photo business is now plagued by an overabundance of overfed lawyers who want to intervene in every step of your relationships, whether with clients, colleagues, photographers, or anyone you might interact with — now or in perpetuity.

The photography world was ripe for the intrusion. What was traditionally a handshake business with hardly any paperwork has become a profitable battleground for those who preach the “ultimate rule of the law.” Not only have lawyers destroyed the handshake (which had worked quite well for decades); they have also succeeded in redesigning our little world into a landscape of suspicion, fear, liabilities and potential horror stories.

They thrive on fear, and that’s how they sell their services. They insinuate doubt into every relationship in order to take control of them. And then, they insert their fee.

Like a communication toll, they start generating their income every time you use their service to make contact with the other party. That’s right; you’re no longer dealing with a person, but a “party.” Objectification is their key weapon in turning trust into suspicion.

Not Qualified to Drive

All of this would be OK, I suppose, if what they said or did were useful. But it’s not.

From the Corbis lawyer who compares Chris Usher’s images to nails to the New York Times counsel who declares that because a print was sent once for usage, it thus belongs to them forever, it’s the rule of “anything goes,” the absurd.

Because they were bred and fed by law, they start to believe that everything that comes out of their mouth is automatically law. They confuse their roles with that of a judge.

Unfortunately, many in our business fall into their traps and let them dictate business decisions. They buy into the paranoia. It’s like giving the wheel of your car to a juggler who doesn’t have a driver’s license. They are an expert in their field, for what it’s worth, but they aren’t qualified to take to you where you need to go.

Lawyers are the kings and queens of zero-risk management. They destroy cooperation by insisting on protection against every remotely possible unwanted outcome or disaster scenario.

But risk aversion is not what the photography business is about. We take risks in this business every day — from the news photographer going to shoot a war, to the photo editor hiring a new photographer for the first time. Photographers take a risk every time they shoot before being paid. It’s just the nature of what we do.

And 99.9% of the time, it works out just fine.

But lawyers want to convince you that things will go wrong 99.9% of the time. If we really faced that level of risk, most of us wouldn’t get out bed in the morning.

Shake Hands and Mean It

Listen to me: if you want to be in an industry that doesn’t require taking on some risk, get out of the photography business and find something else to do. Don’t pester us with your greedy lawyers. A signature at the bottom of a piece of paper never saved anyone, anyway.

If you’re in the mood to open your wallet, don’t waste your money on a lawyer. Invest it in marketing. Take a photo editor out for lunch or drinks. Shake hands and mean it. Get out from behind that wall of legal paperwork and begin creating relationships of trust.

4 Responses to “The Photography Industry Needs Fewer Lawyers — and More Trust”

  1. I have recently run into a difficult to manage liability regarding photography of minors in tennis tournaments. My issue is twofold: first, the minefield of negotiation required for me to do my work and make a living, but secondly and just as importantly, is the fact a generation of young sportspeople are disappearing from before our lenses. And I mean everyone's lenses, even the mums and dads who here in Australia could face prosecution for taking a photo of someone other than their own child, which in a team sport is difficult to avoid. Madness. The argument I hear is that sporting bodies are trying to protect minors from sexual exploitation on the internet. That's all well and good, but at what cost the freedom of expression of others? And that's what junior sports photography is. An expression. A memory. A keepsake. Perhaps a training aid, or a motivational prop. And a great deal of energy is being spent to prevent this from happening while seeding an aura of mistrust of the worst kind.

    I agree. Keep the lawyers at bay.

  2. I think you've used some extreme examples, but I wouldn't paint every lawyer with that brush. We face risk and we could use some more trust, but I believe a good lawyer understands that's part of life. The bad ones will always be around to provide extreme examples, such as the one from NY Times. With all due respect to Shakespeare, we can't kill all the lawyers.

  3. While I respect the sentiment, I don't entirely agree. The legal industry needs more lawyers who understand the photography industry as well as more lawyers who are there for photographers, rather than corporations.

    The unwillingness of photographers to deal with lawyers is what leads many photographers to sign deals that are very bad for them. Lawyers that support photographers and visual artists rights and help visual artists succeed have never been needed more.

  4. Ouch!


    A Photographer Who Is Also a Lawyer

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