Friday, 31 July 2009

The Guardian Still Doesn’t like Us.

After my blog piece on this new Guardian (GNM) 'rights grab', there was a mention on the British Journal of Photography web site ‘Photographers protest Guardian's rights-grabbing move

They quote a spokeswoman from the Guardian saying the following:

“We are currently operating in unprecedented trading conditions and have been compelled to look at costs across the entire organisation.

The changes announced bring us in line with other national press and our terms and conditions for freelancers remain amongst the best.

This is not a rights grab. The changes announced, in practice, will affect only a very small proportion of contributors. Stock photography and photography commissioned prior to September 1 2009 is unaffected. Furthermore, our standard syndication terms remain unchanged. We seek a non-exclusive licence to re-use new commissions, not the copyright. We have to establish a sustainable cost base for the future.”

It cannot be denied that the Guardian along with a number of other newspapers (But by no means all), is suffering in the current economic downturn – much the same as the rest of us I would imagine! I am a freelance; no one is going to be exposed to the tide of economics more than I. But did photographers cause GNMs problems? – well no. Are they such an expense that taking more from them will somehow revitalise GNMs financial position? – well no, far from it. The one thing you can say is that the freelance photographers on contract to the Guardian, (their staff compliment is very low, possibly even non-existent these days), are very much part of the newspapers strengths.

“The changes bring us in line with other national press”.

Well, who, exactly? And if indeed this was the case, how does one justify bad behaviour in a civilised society, surely not by saying the ‘other guy does it so it’s ok?' I bet Saddam Hussein was just kicking himself all the way to the gallows, that he didn't use this as a defence at his 'trial'.

The Guardian say that other papers have already imposed rights grabs, and indeed the inference is that they all do. None of those newspapers have tried it on with me - only the Guardian. Perhaps the Guardian would care to name those newspapers it is merely emulating - they haven't done so, so far?

Had such a letter gone out from other publications I am sure there would have been the same outcry. I didn't react against the Guardian out of spite; I would have reacted to this letter whoever had sent it.

I understand that the 'Herald' in Glasgow is trying to do the same thing, and I am aware that the photographers there are reacting against the demand, and bitterly resent it.

Fleet Street has changed hugely in recent times. Whereas ten years ago I would have probably supplied images on commission or request to virtually every Fleet Street publication every week, now those requests are fewer and far apart.

Even those based in London, (where I was until 1999), are getting much less work than ten years ago, and for many outside the M25 it has almost vanished except on extra special jobs which simply have to have a local professional.

I make it clear again, whenever I supply a client, whether it is on commission or whether it is from my stock files, I supply that imagery on a one-use one-fee basis. If the client requires more than one use, then this can be negotiated, but it would be commercial suicide for myself or any other professional editorial photographer to suddenly change our working models to a one (low) fee for an unlimited unspecified use. Why would we want to do this? How could we make such a system pay?

If GNM want to have the same rights to our work as they would with staff photographers, then perhaps what they should be looking at doing is starting to take on staff photographers again, and paying them the going rate. That way they would have 'all rights' - in exchange for a salary.

The Guardian representatives often tell us:

“Our terms and conditions for freelancers remain amongst the best”

Unfortunately these days that is only in their dreams. The myth that the Guardian are the good guys unfortunately has taken a huge battering over the past few years, what with enforced syndication to the direct detriment of the contributor, and now this rights grab.

It doesn’t matter how many times Guardian management staff tell us this isn’t a rights grab; it clearly is. The Guardian wants re-use rights for free. Not just re-use in the paper, but web use, use in books, and use for any other product they come up with. These are rights they had to pay for in the past, as do other publications. To now assume those rights for free, is by any definition I have come across, a rights grab.

Merely repeating the words, ‘This is not a rights grab’, doesn’t magically make it the case – far from it.

The changes, despite the assertions to the contrary will affect all future commissioned photographic contributors to GNM publications. That GNM use fewer photographers now than ever before is sad and unfortunate, but this new rights grab will affect all contributors.

If the award winners like Tom Jenkins aren’t affected then that would make it all the worse that they do this to every one else. If Tom is affected, then how must he feel? What a way for the Guardian to repay his loyal services and his most excellent photography? Didn’t Tom win four awards in PPY 2009?

That the Guardian dare not make this retrospective is down to contract law, not I imagine some generous gift to the photographic community. To tell us that standard syndication remains unchanged is also somewhat misleading as they have only just introduced enforced syndication which specifically affects their photographic contributors, and is to the detriment, in some cases we are told, to the sum of many thousands of pounds per annum, of the freelance contributor.

Finally, after telling us that this is not a ‘rights grab’ our spokeswoman explains

“We seek a non-exclusive licence to re-use new commissions, not the copyright. “

I would be happy to consider licensing on this basis, and I am sure others would to, but there would have to be some financial compensation for this new ‘non-exclusive licence’. If there is no extra money then it remains a rights grab – there simply is no other phrase that covers it.


Pete Jenkins

Member of: The National Union of Journalists


  1. Pete,

    You make a good point and I agree with pretty much all of what you say here.

    The Guardian have previously strived to be the gold-standard and what is disturbing about this round of rights grabs is that it brings them to a level below the other serious publications.

    The Telegraph group have operated a policy of unpaid re-publications in their titles (both Daily and Sunday) for a number of years and tried to enforce a syndication agreement on contributors the former successfully and the latter not.

    The principle problem is that re-use income will continue to fall as space rates tumble and this aspect is hard to make any financial case against.

    Far more worrying is their decision to include other uses that WOULD give substantial remuneration to the photographer such as book rights and promotional usage.

    The situation for news media and related photography has changed with disarming speed and we all need to be quicker on our feet with this issue of rights. Some could be negotiated in good faith, some should be sacrosanct but a unilateral imposition can never be acceptable.

    The Guardian have more staff members than most newspapers in the UK but they cannot cover everything with an Agency/Staff combination. As such, the photographic community in the UK and elsewhere needs to take a deep breath, count to ten and state clearly that there needs to be proper dialogue on this issue, done in the knowledge that we have more weight than we might suspect.

    Then we will have the hard part; what are we as freelancers prepared to offer as part of negotiation and what will remain off the table?

    What is perfectly clear is that photography and news media are learning to live without one-another and ion the short-term this is going to hurt photographers more. But in the longer term, acquiescence on this issue will make published photography totally non-viable.

    We must stand firm on these challenges or be finished in photography - within the decade.

  2. Coming back to the subject a few months on.

    We have had the protest outside the swank new Guardian offices in Kings Cross, (they must have cost a few shekels) and it was reassuring to see such high profile faces as Steve Bell and Eamonn McCabe showing support.

    We have seen the Guardian/Observer make the decision not to use people who have been GNM stalwarts for years, simply because they won't (understandably) accept the new system.

    We have seen GNM management not force some photographers into the new system, (presumably because they are high profile enough to embarrass the Guardian and Observer Management)

    For freelance photographers it is a sad state of affairs. Some 'togs have bowed to the demands and continued to work, and whilst one understands that to a degree, (we all have mortgages to pay) in this day of recession and failing newspapers, it is still very sad to see a newspaper take out its own problems on those least able to stand up and say NO.

    However, despite the bullying tactics many photographers have said NO, and the Guardian and Observer newspapers are the poorer for this. Who has won? Not the newspaper that's for sure, and not the photographers either.

    And just how much will Guardian News Media save as a result of this penalising the photographers tactic? Well as the papers are commissioning less work, using fewer pictures, and using them smaller; probably not much - a lot less than £60,000 per year at a considered estimate.

    No, the savings will come when GNM start publishing this work on the web, in books and producing other published items in which the bother of paying creators for their original work is considered far too tedious to be bothered with.