Photographers make a lot of excuses for surrendering their copyrights to the publications that hire them for assignments. I often hear this tired refrain: “What are the photos worth, anyway?”
Well, let’s take one example. Let’s say you are a photographer and a magazine called Washington Life hires you to take pictures at a party. You readily hand over the rights to your images because, you rationalize, “They’re just party pics. Who would want them?”
Party Pics, Anyone?
I’ll tell you who wants them. The people in the pictures want them. Which is why Washington Life sells them on SmugMug.
At a price of about $20 for an 8 x 10 print, the magazine recoups the cost of hiring you by selling about 10 prints. That makes the use of your photos in the magazine essentially free. And since Washington Life owns the copyright to your photos as per its contract with you, you are not entitled to an additional dime.
“But it’s just a few prints,” you say. “Who cares? What does it matter?”
For one thing, it’s work you created; you should be entitled to income from it. For another thing, it’s just plain wrong.
The purpose of this post is not to encourage you to sell your own party prints. It’s to illustrate that your images have value beyond the immediate assignment.
I know for a fact that during at least one past political scandal, this same magazine owned a portrait that a photographer had shot for them, and they re-licensed that image for a considerable sum of money. I can only assume this is happening with other images as well.
If you’ve given them your copyright, why shouldn’t they take advantage of it (and you)?
Turning Your Photos into Their Profit Center
Consider the case of Niche Media.
Based in Nevada, Niche Media publishes city-specific luxury lifestyle magazines, including Ocean Drive, Capitol File, Gotham, Hamptons, and Los Angeles Confidential, which together “capture a dream, coast-to-coast demographic” for its advertisers.
Niche Media has a nice side business going, too. They sell/relicense your images to Wire Image without paying you for those resales.
How many sales do you think it takes before your assignment becomes a profit center for Niche Media?
One? Two, maybe?
When people take your copyright, or require you to transfer all rights in your images to them, they’re almost always doing it because those images have value. Just because you can’t imagine what an image’s resale value is, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any.
Think twice before selling yourself short.