Saturday, 3 December 2011

Leveson inquiry - some balance please

I haven’t blogged in quite a while – my apologies.  Like many of us I have been struggling to get work, and complete it when I have found it, and I have also been overwhelmed by the copyright situation and current discussions going on.  It was this piece in the Guardian yesterday, on top of discussion that photographers have been having amongst themselves about the unbalanced mention of snappers/smudgers news photographers at Leveson, that bring fingers back to keyboard.

 Leveson inquiry: 'Photographers facing unfair criticism'

Whilst I have huge sympathy for those who have had their lives quite clearly interfered with by a very obtrusive British Press, it is not every journalist or photojournalist who engages in this kind of activity: none of my friends do, and few if any of the thousands of photographers I have regular contact with around the country.  But they are out there and I have seen them work.  :-)

I have been a professional photographer all my working life, Although I have very small interactions these days - since about 2003, the large part of my career has been dealing with newspapers, the large majority the nationals say 70-30%.  And whilst it is true I have never been a staffer, I have been a contract Freelance for some years with the Sunday Telegraph and I have undertaken countless thousand commissions for the rest of Fleet Street, and there isn't a single Fleet Street Picture desk I have not had a large amount of contact with over an extend period between say the late seventies and 2003 I worked for the ST picture desk for some thirteen years as a sports photographer, and also and subsequently, ran my own sports photo agency.  In all this time I was primarily a sports photographer working all over the world but on occasion I also did what is known as ‘news’ work and sometimes features, not just photographing sporting events and people.  I work mostly on my own, but also worked as part of a team, and certain situations require that everyone has to work as part of a ‘pack’.

I have seen some incredibly professional behavior from my colleagues most of the time, but I have it is true also seen behavior that has made me very angry - and I am not a person to get riled easily.  Any one who makes me angry must be behaving very badly indeed.

I have seen photographers blatantly flout police instructions and lines in order to get the picture that their colleagues could not get because they followed police instructions.  I have equally experienced photographers abandon image taking in order to help people who have been caught up in situations and desperately needed help - always a difficult decision to make, but one thankfully that most of us do not have to make.

I have witnessed photographers being ritually picked on by crowds at many different events, including my first ever ‘Premier League’ game where we, (photographers), were pelted by sharpened coins and darts from the crowd (Everton V Tottenham for the record).

The worse thing regularly seen is the ‘chancers’.

Like many people I have had a low opinion of much of the headlined material and what was written in the News of the World, the Sun, the Star, and also at times the Mirror, the People, the Express and the Mail, the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Express, and despite their high(er) brow status the Times, Telegraph, their associated Sundays and even on occasion the Guardian and Observer have made me wince.  I loathe so called kiss and tell journalism, and the sort of Journalism where a headline is derived to sell a newspaper and it turns out the content has been poorly researched if at all, and it is mostly lies.  I hate the two-inch capital headlines and the three pages of slander, apologised for months latter with a two-inch column retraction hidden in the middle of the paper.

Despite all this, most of the time the people I have dealt with on Picture and occasionally news desks have always appeared to be decent people, and hardly ever anything other than totally professional.

I have never understood how with all the professionals I deal with, where that the nastiness and dishonesty comes from.

Having said that I do recall over my time a number of situations, which I now recognise as being at the very least 'dodgy'. 
  • I do recall being sent to a Millwall home match once and being asked to specifically photograph crowd violence - football action not required. 
  • I recall another situation when there was a bomb scare at the Grand Notional when the photographic team for the Sunday Telegraph was being urged by the Picture editor (safe in London) to stay inside the police barrier and remain in the ground whilst everyone was being evacuated.
  • Equally I remember the huge effort being made to work on behalf of photographers by that very same Picture editor when a photographer had been arrested in a difficult situation overseas.
  • I have seen photographers behave appallingly at photo shoots, when most agree to stay behind one position to the benefit of all, and one 'chancer' decides to flout the agreement at the last moment and get pictures that are unique and at the same time turn over everyone else because all other pictures have the flauntee in them as he dashed in front of everyone else.
  • I have seen photographers (staffers) sharing images, and seen the same image given nine different by lines in as many papers.
  • I have seen my own images given a staffers by lines.

Given a little more time I am sure I can come up with many more incidents, anecdotes and similar remembrances.

I do recall that for the first fifteen years of my career, I refused to supply the Sun and the News of the World, out of disgust, but that due to a series of situations I ended up working with the NoW desk in the nineties, and in my experience the News of the World Picture desk was the most professional I ever dealt with, and that they were also consistently the best payers.  Ironic or what?

Most of the time, when it comes down to badly behaved photographers, and there are a few, it is the rogues and chancers, and increasingly these days the paps - not experienced professionals but people chasing big bucks offered by some papers for the very pictures that are abhorred by Leveson contributors (including me it must be said).  Many of these paps are out of work , acquire a camera and follow the myth that professional 'photojournalists' are regularly paid big money - (we are most emphatically not), and confuse news work with hassling and chasing after celebrities.

The nearest I have ever done to this was the very occasional doorstep work, and even that I found out of place and uncomfortable most of the time.

I would suggest that the large part of the problem comes from two sources.  An unregulated press, which seems to have pressured itself into publishing more invasive so called news, with less checking and poor verification than we have ever seen before, along with the incursion into the industry of operators who work with few guidelines and observe no rules.  If every photographer, journalist and Editorial desk insisted on working to (say) the National Union of Journalist ethical guidelines then this inquiry would never have been needed in the first place.

And I would say now as I have said before it is only a very small minority you cross the line, but do it regularly.  if they are allowed to get away with it then it will happen again, and again, and again.  If we don't punish transgressors then can we really be surprised at the results?

Self-regulation?  Don't make me laugh.  It didn't work for bankers and it didn't work for the UK press.

I would like my voice heard in this please, and I know there are hundreds if not thousands of professional photojournalists who would echo my thoughts.


Pete Jenkins

Friday, 4 March 2011

Review of Intellectual Property and Growth: Call for Evidence

"What, if anything, should we do to change the UK's IP system in the interests of promoting more rapid innovation and economic growth?

It is through that lens that I will be assessing all responses. The most persuasive arguments will be those supported by the most robust evidence. That evidence might come in the form of statistics or in case studies based upon direct, personal and organisational experience."

So Ian Hargreaves wrote asking members of industry and the public to contribute to his consulting exercise on UK patents and copyright

   I can comment only on the experience I have had as a creator, as an agent for other creators, and from my experience dealing with creators all over the UK, mostly, but not exclusively photographers.  Copyright law in the UK appears simple enough, and far from complicated, although, it must be said, there are some glaring omissions to the detriment of creators, which include the need to assert moral rights in created work, and then the dispensation to give a credit allowed to newspapers and magazines.  Lack of credit does hurt creators in several crucial financial ways, and in addition it also hurts the consumer of product because the consumer is often then unable to verify the source of material whether it be written or an image.

By allowing created work to be published without a credit, without the author’s identification, the author loses the gravitas that publication gives the creator’s brand.  It is through publication and the knowledge that a work is by a particular creator that creators build up their brands.  Whilst the scale might be different, brand awareness is vitally important to creators especially those who work on their own as sole traders. Just as important as it is to a large supermarket or a major publishing house.  It is as important to a photographer as it is to an artist.  Lack of brand awareness seriously damages saleability.

The lack of a label identifying the author also affects the consumer.  Particular creators, whether they are a reporter, a writer or a photographer, (or any other type of creator), add value to the printed page or the video report etc.  Knowing who is the writer or the photographer/illustrator also tells the consumer that the report, the writing, or the image can be relied on and is factual – that it can be verified.

I have been a press and editorial documentary photojournalist now for 35 years.  My first images were sold in around 1975.  In the time I have been trading I have changed my trading name probably five times, my address as many, and my phone number a little less.  When I started I had neither and e-mail contact nor a mobile phone, and whilst these latter have now been constant for some fifteen or so years before that they too have changed several times.

During this period I have distributed scores of thousands of photographs.  Initially as black and white prints - none of which will have my current contact details, then as colour prints - again no current details on them either, and then from about 1992/3 mostly as digital files.  Many of the earlier digital files will also have incorrect contact details.

Whilst after each change of contact details I have always contacted each and every client, even defunct ones with the changes, how many of my images  (80,000+) will have been as diligently updated?

So, even though my name is easily 'Googled', most of my work put out to clients, both commissioned and speculatively, over at least the first twenty-five years of my career is likely to be orphaned in one way or another.  Add to this the fact that the majority of my work published in Newspapers, and a substantial amount of magazine work is published without out a byline, and perhaps this can give an indication of the actual extent of orphaned work - just amongst professionals.  Can I keep track of uninformed uses?  Not a chance.  Do clients contact me to ask if they can use older material from file?  Rarely.

Turning to the BBC.  They used to have a large number of sports images for use with 'A Question of Sport'.  These were exclusively transparencies.  None of mine will have my current contact details.  How many of these images are still on file?  What would the BBC do if they wanted to use one now or in the future? 

I used to be a contractor with the ‘Daily’, and then the ‘Sunday’ Telegraph newspapers.  Many thousands of my images are on file with them, and I have no reason to believe that they have purged me from their digital systems (rather the opposite).  After I stopped being part of the 'team', I stopped receiving regular cheques.  But my work was still used as stock.  I used to go to their library every six months or so and search through the editions.  Due to time constraints I ended up only being able to check the final editions, but even so every trip used to reveal scores of uses, which I was able to invoice for £1000s.

Now in Nottingham, I no longer have access to their library, but have the uses stopped?  Every now and again I pick up an on-line use, but have huge problems in getting paid for them.  But how many uses slip through, get used and I simply remain unaware of the use?  The Telegraph advise that they pay on invoice.

It is much the same for the Mail, Express, Mirror, Times, Sunday Times, News of the World, Star, Sunday Mirror, People, FT, Guardian, Observer etc all of whom have used my work, commissioned my work, and stored my work in their libraries.  Occasionally, I get a payment, but being in Nottingham I am not in a position to check all editions even if I could now justify the time to go through every paper available to me in Nottingham (I can't).  So over a year how many uses do I not get paid for?

And yes, I know that as my material ages it would be used less, but I get enough requests and queries for my older work to know that it does have a value and could well be being used in a small trickle with almost everyone of my former National (and regional) newspaper clients.  But none, apart from the Guardian, (and their system is manual so fallible), seem to volunteer payments these days, so it seems.

How many of these Publishers and former regular clients can say that they have updated all my details on all my older works?

Increasingly over the past ten years I have experienced publishers asking me to sign contracts, which give most or all of my rights to the publisher.  This goes a lot further than not giving an image credit, but denies me the ability to sell my images to other clients in the future, and equally if I did sign such a contract it would give the publisher the legal right to sell licenses of my images to third parties without any recourse to myself or any payment to myself.  Whether these third parties are other companies within the publishing group or completely different third parties is irrelevant.  Each use should be paid for – that is how the creator earns his or her living.  To deny the creator the ability to sell license to their own images has an immediate detrimental effect on their ability to survive economically.

Being able to licence ones own work to third parties has become increasingly important in the past twenty years, as since 1994 the fees paid to editorial photographers have either stagnated, or in the worst cases actually fallen.  This does not just cover commissioned work, but also work taken from stock files, (usually paid for in proportion to the size used).  As publishers increasingly insist on contributors signing over their rights to licence and exploit their own work, it becomes more and more difficult for those creators to survive.  Of course the creators with the best reputations are able to resist such economic attrition, but those new to the industry are often told that such assignment of rights is the business or industry norm, when of course it isn’t, and rookie creators are given a very rough ride in the industry that they have chosen.

Photographers report numerous practices that can be regarded as anti-competitive, including the demand to transfer copyright that is made by organisations as diverse as Future Publishing and the BBC.  Copyright should be a basic human right, and no large corporation should be able to, (should be allowed to), use its commercial muscle to force sole traders to part with extra publishing rights or indeed copyright without a suitable and appropriate payment.

The only reason for publishers to demand copyright as a condition of purchase or sale is so that they can continue to exploit the created works without making appropriate and further payments to the creator.  That undermines the entire copyright licensing system to the direct detriment of the creator.

Of course, such tactics whilst they give a short-term advantage to larger players such as publishers do in the end have a very detrimental affect on the industry as a whole.  There are fewer and fewer full-time editorial photographers today than there were twenty years ago, and although universities and colleges are training students, very few are actually able to make a career in the creative arts – especially photography, work.

I have become very concerned with the issue of orphan works.  What started initially as a very credible need by the library and academic sector to digitise previously published works, has ended up being very far from this simple academic ideal.

Recently we have seen attempts at orphan works legislation fail to pass through US legislature, and we understand that the similar legislation initially designed to allow libraries and academic institutions to digitise published works without fear of prosecution from copyright owning creators.

Few if any creators reject the idea of digitising collections of works.  Indeed the project has the support of all those I have discussed it with.  The difficulty has always been that in order to digitise existing hardcopy collections it is inevitable that commercial entities will be engaged to undertake the actual digitisation process, and that in order to pay for the work done the academic institutions and libraries will start to sell of rights which they do not have.

Indeed we have already seen this happen with the British Library and the British Newspaper Archive currently housed in Colindale

James Murdoch has accused the British Library of acting for commercial gain with plan to digitise newspapers – the library says this is 'patently not true'
 The Guardian, Monday 7 June 2010

 Whilst the British library says that it is not making any commercial gain out of the digitisation process, it is very clear that Brightsolid a division of DC Thomson most certainly cannot make the same claim.  They are not digitising the archive out of a sense of community spirit, but because the see and intend to exploit a commercial opportunity.  Neither Brightsolid nor the British Library have adequately explained how they can identify which photograph or which article has been written by a staff member, (therefore the copyright belongs to the newspaper publisher), or which have been created by freelances, (who own their own copyright).  Neither have they adequately explained how they will attempt to ask permission for those pieces of original created works to be sold on to 3rd parties.  In addition they have not explained how the original creators will be paid their rightful percentage of the sales of articles made.

The digitisation of the Newspaper archive is a very worthwhile project, but due process must be gone through, and no one should be guessing what is or is not in copyright, now should any commercial entity be profiting from creators’ original work without a basic agreement to do so and a mechanism in place for apportioning a part of each sale to those creators.

Pete Jenkins