Copyright issue. Did I get screwed? (need advice: cliffs at end)

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by ShooterMcGavin, Oct 29, 2011.

  1. ShooterMcGavin macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #1
    First time poster but long time readers, so sorry if this gets tl;dr. need some serious advice and there seem to be some serious photographers on here.

    The story: Been shooting for a small local outlet for a long time. they're a little finicky, but I'm happy to take work from them when I can get it, because even though it pays little, it's exposure, and I contractually retain the copyright on all my stuff. plus I make a lot more for shooting parties anyway so i can work for these guys for cheap.

    The hired me recently for a gig that, when i showed up, was clearly a corporate party that they were cosponsoring, and representatives from some pretty major sponsors were there asking me to take shots of their brands. i asked a rep from this news outlet (some guy from marketing i'd never met) who was paying me. he responded that i was getting paid by the news outlet. i'm not happy because i won't get paid much since the shots will just be used editorially, but it builds my portfolio and i make contacts. the party was 4 hours and it went really well.

    the shots are posted on the news site a few days later, but i'm getting a feeling that the sponsors might want to use them for promo, so i email the marketing guy and tell him to make sure that the sponsors email me first, because they weren't the ones who hired me, they're not licensed to them, and if i shot photos for them i should have been paid way more since it was commercial and a different kind of business. i specifically say that if the sponsors want to link to them on the news site, that's totally fine, because the news site has them for editorial use and if the sponsors want to give them extra traffic, totally up to them. i emphasize that sponsors themselves can't take them and use them for promo, specifically mentioning facebook. The marketing guy said he'd make sure the sponsors reached out to me first if they wanted to use them.

    a few days later (wednesday) the entire set of photos go up on one of the sponsors facebook sites. unlike before, i've recieved no credit whatsoever. I contact marketing guy from the news site and say "hey, no big deal, but that sponsor isnt licensed to use them, and they need to pay me for commercial use". He says that he thought it would be okay if they used them because the news site had already posted them first (which makes no sense - you can't rip photos off the washington post and put them in an absolut ad just because they're already published). I say now that they're posted and taking them down makes everyone look bad, the sponsors that have used them should pay me [x reasonable amount, calculated from the cost of me shooting a standard event]. marketing guy says, "well it's after the fact so we definitely can't ask them for money now. don't know what to tell you." i definitely clarified this in advance by our email conversation, and he's clearly trying to keep things on an even keel with the sponsors. which i understand from his business's end but looks like they're violating our contract and copyright law.

    long story short, looks like I just was paid for shooting a news story when i've booked other clients for the exact same work who've happily paid me 20 times more for the same results. i need to have a good relationship with the outlet, so i have to tread carefully, but this seems totally uncool, and I very nicely explained why to them and asked them to help me arrive at a solution. made no demands, but indicated that something's got to be done. the ball's in their court at this point.

    Tl;dr version: the news people i was shooting for paid me for photos for their news site and posted them. they gave them to the corporate sponsors against my wishes which were made clear in an email conversation, and now the sponsors are using them for corporate promotion without crediting me. i asked news people to get them to license the photos from me, and they've said no.

    The question: How do you proceed? I think saying "I hold the copyright - get the sponsor to take them down" is a terrible idea, event though it's definitely within my rights. did my business basically get screwed on this one, and should I take this as a lesson? Is there currently a way for me to get something good out of this? I don't want to force news outlet to pay me more, and i definitely don't want to get litigious. but as I own the photos and everyone knows i own the photos, i should be able to do something. Just don't know what the heck it should be.

    Sorry for the longness.
     
  2. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #3
    Contact the other company directly. Inform them that your contract for that night was for editorial use by the paper only, and they need to remove your photos unless an arrangement can be made. If they say no or hesitate, lawyer up.
     
  3. ShooterMcGavin thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #4
    but i want future business from the news site. they give me good exposure. seems like litigation is bad for business all around? plus dont want to get known as a photographer who had photos taken down over copyright stuff.
     
  4. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #5
    It has nothing to do with the news site; leave them out of it going forward.
     
  5. ShooterMcGavin thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #6
    main worry is that i'll damage their relationship with this sponsor, and itll come back to bit me in a loss of future work and exposure for me, if not actually injure my name
     
  6. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #7
    It seems they have already proven to be unwilling to respect your requests. I'm not sure continuing to beg them is going to change their minds. This is sort of what lawyers are for. Lawyer up or put up with the abuse seem to be your only options.

     
  7. ShooterMcGavin thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #8
    I think rjs is right. if you ever want to lawyer up over this stuff, you have to show that you tried your best to resolve the situation on your own and the other guys were unwilling. guessing i should reach out to sponsor since they're the ones technically in the wrong and try to delicately handle this?
     
  8. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #9
    I agree you should show good faith in trying to deal with them without litigation. However, they might respond more favorably to a letter from a lawyer on your behalf. By all means you should continue to resolve this with them; hiring a lawyer does not immediately mean filing a suit, but it is a minor escalation on your part to let them know that you're serious and would like this issue resolved.

     
  9. sjinsjca macrumors 68000

    sjinsjca

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2008
    #10
    Before you escalate in any way, make screen-snaps or other archives of what's been posted.

    Suing one's customers is always dicey business. In this case they've marked you as a *****, and that won't cure itself. In business, you get what you negotiate. At a minimum, this suggests you need to tighten up the language in your written contracts.
     
  10. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #11
    I also just want to point out that I am not a lawyer; I generally despise lawyers; and my posts in no way constitute legal advice.


    :D
     
  11. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #12
    The language might be good, but completely ignored.
     
  12. mobilehaathi macrumors G3

    mobilehaathi

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Location:
    The Anthropocene
    #13
    Indeed, they may simply feel they can get away with pushing around an independent photographer. Having solid language doesn't guarantee compliance at all.

     
  13. rocknblogger macrumors 68020

    rocknblogger

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2011
    Location:
    New Jersey
    #14
    You're at a crossroads. Your intellectual property is being abused you were contracted to only take editorial photos that a third party decided to use commercially. You can't play soft ball with either party.

    I think the news outfit needs to understand that you're serious about your work and property. Of course you don't have to be a jerk about it but I would very strongly tell them how you feel. You have to prevent this from ever happening again. If you don't make a stand now it can bite you again later.

    Also, if you approach the third party in a professional way I don't see how it would have a negative impact on their relationship since you're a freelancer.

    I can understand if you don't want to play hardball with the news outlet but there's no reason not to with the the third party. Every business has a lawyer. If anything it will make you look more professional and will keep things from getting personal.

    Good luck.
     
  14. Demosthenes X macrumors 68000

    Demosthenes X

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2008
    #15
    Have a lawyer draft something like a cease-and-desist letter to the sponsors. That should get them to pull down the images. You might also be able to ask for damages... clarify all of this with your lawyer.
     
  15. eljanitor macrumors 6502

    eljanitor

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2011
    #16
    Here's what I Think about this. You got taken advantage of, and they are using your photos without your permission. Document this and get the proof, screenshots etc, whatever you need.

    Its sounds like you tried to be reasonable with them, and they are blowing you off.

    You are and individual. They are a corporation. They have lawyers readily available. You need to find a good one, because although you seem to be being more then fair, it sounds like they have clearly crossed some known lines here.

    I would hope that you had them sign a written contract stating your terms before the photo sessions began, and they signed it. If so you definitely have a case.

    Lawyers calling companies make companies sit up and listen. Unfortunately you have to pay your own lawyer too. Hope you decide what to do soon, and I hope this was helpful for you.
     
  16. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2007
    Location:
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    #17
    You don't need to sue, but you do need to consult a lawyer. First, you need to make sure you actually owned the copyright. And once that is confirmed (presumably it will, but you gotta check it first) you can then explore just what your options are and what you can expect to collect vs spend on lawyer's fees.

    A lawyer familiar with copyright law will only need to see you for an hour, initially. Less than hour, but I don't think they bill that way ;) . (I have a friend who is a (retired) lawyer, and he'd give you an answer in 5 minutes after reading the documentation. But - you'd be in the office for an hour....)

    Then you can make a reasonable decision, based on real information, and balance the pros & cons of potentially alienating the news outlet.

    After you have confirmed that you have legal options, one avenue to explore is to approach the publisher/managing editor and let them know that the marketing person has put you in a position where you feel your only option is to sue, and you'd like to avoid that. The publisher/managing editor may be more sympathetic.

    Luck.
     
  17. fpnc macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2002
    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    #18
    I would suggest that you do NOT hire a lawyer. Just write a letter and send it to the company in question and make it certified with a signed return receipt. In that letter explain the situation and then request that either the images get taken down or you will act to force compensation for same (give them a time limit, like five business days, or until a certain date). Of course, this assumes that you actually own the copyright free and clear (you need to be sure about that).

    No need for a lawyer (yet), just write a stern letter and make if sound formal.
     
  18. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #19
    Tell him that someone has to pay your bills, either he can find a way for the newspaper to do it or he can find a way for his client to do it- it doesn't matter to you who does it- but someone needs to do it- your contract was clear, you were clear and he messed up- ask him what he's going to do to fix it that doesn't involve you taking a hit. Face it, low-ball jobs for "exposure" generally fail at getting enough business to cover the pain anyway, if the shoe was on the other foot would they be saying "no big deal" to you? I doubt it. He's got a budget and he's got clients, he can make it up to you, or he can go crawling to his client explaining why he messed up- either one should be good for you.

    Paul
     
  19. ShooterMcGavin thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #20
    Given that proof of ownership seems to be a thing, here's the story:

    Never have a signed contract with news guys. Always just been an understanding that I own all my work, so it doesn't fall into the area of "work made for hire". Which is good because as far as I can tell work made for hire (where you automatically give up the copyright) requires a written agreement and signature between both parties.

    my best proof tho is actually an internal convo from local news outlet that marketing guy cced me on which from his perspective i believe was a mistake. the convo is a few days old in response to my initial "please have sponsors contact me first request which they said yes to. In marketing guy confirms with my normal editor that I have ownership. Though before you think the news guys are underhanded my usual editor emailed me shortly after to say "as far as im concerned the photos are yours and I'll figure out how to get you paid". This was before anything happened.

    sounds like a course of action that indicates I'm serious would be to register the batch of photos with the us copyright office immediately either as a batch if i want to say they violated the copyright once or each individual photo (costs way more to do so) if I want to say they violated copyright law for each photo.

    honestly i just want to be paid for the work. my offer to marketing guy was just for the sponsor to just pay me my standard reasonable hourly for shooting the event for them and them everyone ends up happy and i still get paid. but this is what marketing guy has said no to.
     
  20. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #21
    ^^^ As far as proof of ownership goes, if there is no written, signed contract saying that you have given up the copyright - you still own it. Just giving your photos to someone else does not give up your copyright to them.

    Bottom line: You still own the photos, and the sponsor company is in violation of the copyright - independent of your deal with the news site.
     
  21. ShooterMcGavin thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2011
    #22
    I think this advice at this point is the best. at this point im thinking that tomorrow i just shoot my normal editor an email asking to chat for three minutes. on call,i calmly, nicely explain that hey, no hard feelings, definitely sorry this got dropped on your desk and I really tried to head it off beforehand, but the sponsor is now using my shots to promote their business and that's great. Someone just gotta pay me for it. My rate is what it is, I shot for x hours the sponsors clearly like the shots so great: they've already been posted and now someone has to pay for them using them, Nicest conversation ever, and as long as I clearly indicate no hard feelings etc, I think the news guys might pay me themselves.

    If that doesn't work, I go to sponsors directly and day the same thing. If that doesn't work, then maybe time to hit up a lawyer. Reason I dnt want to use lawyer is because it's not worth it unless I'm actually seeking damages.
     
  22. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #23
    I think this is an ok route, but I don't understand why you don't want to contact the sponsor company directly. Your issue is with them, not necessary the news site. The news site should not pay you - unless they plan to get compensated by the sponsor.
     
  23. Shacklebolt macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2004
    #24
    Looks like he just wants to maintain a good relationship with his regular employer before he goes behind their back. My boss always says, "No one likes surprises," and a photographer contacting the sponsor to say that he's owed money would probably result in unpleasantness between the news outlet and the sponsor. Maybe he's being too nice about it.

    What would the pay be?
     
  24. r.j.s Moderator emeritus

    r.j.s

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2007
    Location:
    Texas
    #25
    I'm not suggesting that he go behind their back; he should definitely inform them of his intentions, but trying to work through them isn't the best course of action. In the end, using the news site as an intermediary might just piss them off.
     

Share This Page