Photography Contracts, Social Media and Business

I read an interesting article today online about a bride and groom who slammed their wedding photographer on their social media outlets, which allegedly resulted in a loss of business for the photographer and they were ordered to pay $1.08M. House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJThe article stated that the photographer’s contract required that the client must submit an order form and select a cover photo before the album could be completed (cost of the album was included) and the hi res photos could be released. Even though the couple had signed and submitted an order form, they objected to paying $125 for the cover because they felt that should be part of the album as they explained on their local NBC affiliate. After weeks of going back and forth, the photographer learned that the couple had taken the story to the media saying that the photographer was “holding their pictures hostage”. The couple also made other disparaging statements on social media and blogs, which resulted in a loss of business for the photographer.

After being in business for well over three decades and having been a member of my trade organization ASMP for the same amount of time, I know all about the importance of contracts. In the litigious society we live in, it’s imperative to have a contract when doing business. It’s also important to spell out the details clearly about what is included and what isn’t. In addition, because photographers are always being asked to sign their clients’ contracts, it is critical, yet tedious to scrutinize those contracts before you sign them and be prepared to negotiate terms if they are not acceptable. However, even when contracts have been agreed on and signed, things can still go south as in the case mentioned.

There will always be issues because all humans are different. Ultimately, I think some are honorable and some are not. We live at a time when rumors can go around the globe in a matter of seconds and the lines between truth and lies have been blurred with “alternative facts”. I think it all comes down to common sense and trust. I don’t shy away from social media but I don’t believe everything I read. I don’t think I have ever done business solely online with someone. At the very least I will have a phone conversation with them. There is a lot to be said about having a human connection with someone and what is gained by doing so.

The bottom line is that while it is incredibly important to have a contract when doing business that doesn’t mean it will always end well. It all depends on the human variables as far as how the story will end.


Copyright, Contracts and the Independent Photographer

Most photographers hold copyright sacred.  By law, (in the United States) a photographer holds the copyright to his or her work, unless they transfer it to another person, company, institution or organization.  Generally, this happens in a “work for hire” situation.  But it appears that this is becoming more and more the standard in contracts between photographers and the clients who are commissioning them.

This is happening more frequently in editorial markets, where magazines see the added value of the photographs that they commission, beyond their original usage and want to keep that additional revenue, rather than relinquish it to the photographer.  Many publications have partnered with stock agencies for the purpose of “reselling” the images.  Historically, photographers would benefit from relicensing their photographs when shooting for publications. Editorial assignments paid much lower rates than commercial commissions so in return a photographer would receive a credit and in most cases could make additional money by relicensing their images for other uses.  That is quickly changing.

Photographers have been so narrowly focused on just holding on to their copyright, they haven’t been paying much attention to the details in the contracts. Some contracts being offered, transfer the photographer’s copyright to the magazine and in turn offer the photographer a small percentage of any future commissions made from the “resale” of their images, but this of course is a percentage of the magazine’s commission after the stock agency takes their cut.  A lot of photographers think that’s better than not getting anything at all.  But is it?

What’s most alarming in some of the recent contracts that I have seen, is a clause that states that the photographer will hold the magazine harmless if there should be any legal consequences resulting from their images.  So, contractually, even though a photographer no longer holds the copyright to the images they were commissioned to create, nor maintains any control over how those images are used (by the magazine or the stock agency) they are liable if there are legal consequences.

The devil is in the details.  Read the contracts. Do the math and ask yourself if you’ll still be in business in 5 years.  As for me, I see new opportunities beyond commissioned work and one of the many rewards is that I will hold the copyright to the images (still or motion) that I create.