Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nonprofits Never Treat Photographers Well

Almost all of the wildlife photographers that I know are dedicated to their subjects, are strongly in favor of conserving nature, and are generally green in their outlook. Yet ask any photographer about the issue of nonprofits asking to use images for free for their uses, and just about every photographer will give you multiple stories of being abused by these nonprofits.

I'll post a few letters from nonprofits along with my reaction and some fellow photographers' reactions. Here are a few of my thoughts first.

> I am working on a non-profit endeavor, and I would like to use your images for free. Is that possible?

We make our living from photography, plus it consumes work time to administer and negotiate the use of photographs for nonprofit organizations. Therefore there are costs and considerations involved that must be negotiated and found acceptable for everyone involved.

Due to our staff time in tracking these kinds of permissions, we cannot carry on long, tortuous conversations about usages and images. When we donate our images to nonprofit organizations, these transactions generally take three times more time than our regular business. This is because folks at nonprofits and academic institutions usually do not understand standard business practices that graphic professionals do, and we end up having to spend significant time explaining such practices.

1. If we grant you the use of an image, particularly at no charge, then common courtesy and professionalism demands that we get a copy (a xerox copy or a scan via email is fine if that is all you can afford) of the page in which our image is used.

I will always remember a researcher whom I considered a friend asking to use one of my images. I allowed her to use it. She never sent a copy of the paper (we asked), never said thanks -- nothing. A few years later she wrote to ask to use the image again. I initially gave her the same treatment she had given to me -- no response. Her requests became more and more urgent. My office finally replied to her with a "no." She was upset and asked what she had done to deserve such treatment. The question that remains in my mind is why she assumed that we'd continue to allow use of the image in more and more publications, when she never even bothered to say thanks, and never sent us a copy of the use of the image, even though we asked several times.

This is a situation I encounter a great deal with scientists (and other photographers): they ask for favors, don't say thanks, don't follow up with a copy of the use of the image, and often don't even respond if I ever need something from them. Why should my office be the only party that responds and is professional enough to take care of all necessary details?

2. Publishers like these university presses fib routinely to get what they want. SCIENCE, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wanted to use my image on the cover of their magazine once. We asked if they normally paid for the use of images, and they said that they never did. I went to the library and looked up some past issues, saw an image by a stock agency that I knew, called them up and verified that they had been paid. I was appalled that an organization like the American Association for the Advancement of Science would lie about something like that.

3. It frequently happens that when we try to do a favor, the favor turns into a nightmare where we have to spend an inordinate amount of time with logistics of delivering an image, the publisher is not quite happy with the image supplied, the publisher wants exclusive rights to use our images for the rest of eternity throughout the universe, etc. Our patience for such situations has worn thin.

We will supply a JPG color image that we know works well for publication. It is up to the publisher to work with that image, and we hope that their level of expertise is professional, they don't leave things to the last minute, they don't ask us to sign 10-page-long contracts that give them the rights to use the image however they want in whatever media in the universe in perpetuity that their lawyers want. Faced with any kind of long or unreasonable contract, my office will have to withdraw our offer for the use of our images. We don’t have the time to review or approve such long and onerous contracts.

It is usually far easier for our office to work directly with someone from the publisher to negotiate the rights to use our images, rather than working through a researcher. We will always need the publisher to send a contract that outlines the terms needed, and to accept an invoice from us that outlines the terms needed.

4. Our normal rate for usage of photographs in books is on the order of hundreds of dollars for a 1/4 page use, with print run limited to 40,000.

All this kind of information -- print run, size on the page, etc is what our office routinely asks for when granting a license to use one of our images. We must ask and receive confirmation on all such details as we do keep track of such things. It's business. Our business is licensing the rights to the use of my images, and we have to be as meticulous in the licensing and rights granting as scientists need to be in collecting and analyzing data for their papers. Thanks for understanding.

5. For some researchers and nonprofits, we are willing to allow the use of up to three images for the fee of $75. We feel that this is generous and it barely covers the cost of our time in tracking rights and giving permissions.

6. I hope that the publisher and any folks who we are donating the use of our images for the low rate does not take this for granted, and word does not spread that our office is granting rights to images for the low rate of $75. This would destroy what existing business we have.

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